Andy McSmith's Diary: Lord Leveson admits he made one big slip-up

Our man in Westminster

Andy McSmith
Friday 11 October 2013 00:32

Lord Justice Leveson makes no apology for the bulk of the report he produced on the future of newspapers, but under questioning from MPs, he did own up to one regret. It was the passage on the history of The Independent, in which someone called Brett Straub was named among the newspaper’s founders.

I recall spending an intense hour or so last November working out who the hell Brett Straub might be. I eventually concluded from an examination of the history of the Wikipedia entry on The Independent, and by searching Facebook, that he was a recent graduate from a university in Pomona, in California.

The insertion of his name was not an “error”, as Sir Brian Leveson claimed: it was a deliberate act of mischief. A friend added Mr Straub’s name to The Independent’s Wikipedia entry as a joke, and there it stayed for several months, until somebody else removed it. During those months, the article was cut and pasted into the Leveson Report, unchecked. That “allowed much sport to be made of me and my report”, Sir Brian said ruefully.

Naturally, no apology has yet been made to The Independent.

Old Labour’s Dead End Street

Ray Davies, leader of the Kinks and the first man to get a reference to the Inland Revenue into the British pop charts – as in “the taxman’s taken all my dough” – regretted the passing of the former Labour leader John Smith, the last front-line politician to say out loud people should pay taxes without complaining and be proud to do so.

“One morning in May of 1994, I was driving through the tastefully landscaped Surrey countryside when the radio news broke that John Smith had died,” he wrote in his newly published memoir, Americana. “For some reason I was so deeply moved that I stopped at a picture-postcard church in Ockham to go inside and say a prayer for the deceased Socialist. It was then that I realised that I was in effect saying a prayer mourning the loss of the Labour movement that my father had brought me up to believe in.”

New Labour left the old Kink cold. Tony Blair, he thought, “looked, preached and behaved like a Tory”. In politics, evidently, he was not what one might call a dedicated follower of fashion.

Church kicks up a stink on bats

Parishioners of St Hilda’s Church at Ellerburn, near the North York Moors, will soon be relieved of the awful stink caused by bats that live in the roof. “The smell is appalling, it’s a combination of ammonia from the urine and a musty smell from the droppings that catches at the back of the throat,” churchwarden Liz Cowley told the BBC.

Now, at last, Sir Tony Baldry, who speaks for the Church Commissioners, has told the Commons that Natural England, the quango responsible for protecting bats, is granting the church a licence to block their access point. “Churches are not field barns: they are places of worship,” Sir Tony told MPs. Quite so.

Bercow can do the maths

A Labour MP, Huw Irranca-Davies, has pointed out in the Commons that the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, had told MPs that 100,000 homes a week are being connected to broadband, courtesy of his Government, whereas the minister responsible for broadband rollout had used a more plausible figure of 10,000. That is a tenfold difference, he remarked.

“It is extraordinarily public-spirited of you to help me with the arithmetic, in case I was not able to manage it for myself,” Speaker John Bercow replied, with a hint of sarcasm. He added that the onus was on ministers to get their figures right. MPs moved straight on to their next debate, entitled “adult literacy and numeracy”.

Last in line to become PM?

Tory MP Adam Afriyie seems to be alone in seeing a future prime minister in himself. His latest wheeze, to push for an EU referendum before the general election, has yet to pick up support. The political editor of the Daily Mail, James Chapman, even took to Twitter to broadcast an overheard comment: “There’d have to be a fairly bad nuclear war before Adam Afriyie became prime minister.”

If you could buy shares in this man at the price others think he is worth and sell them at his self-evaluation, you would make a fortune.

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