Huhne and Pryce: Eastenders for the chattering classes

Chris Huhne: Picture courtesy telegraph blogs

Chris Huhne: Picture courtesy telegraph blogs

The  fall out from the jailing of former Cabinet minister Chris Huhne and his ex-wife government economist Vicky Pryce is almost too absurd to behold.

Acres of press coverage is being given to the plight of the pair with Fleet Street’s finest excelling themselves on the unfair treatment of the unfortunate duo now residing at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in Wandsworth and Holloway gaols.

In my view this sad and tragic affair had a just and proportionate outcome. Yes, it is wrong for someone to be jailed for taking someone else’s penalty points. But it is not wrong to be jailed, whoever you are, for perverting the course of justice to try to cover it up.

Chris Huhne who lied from the outset and cost the taxpayer a lot of wasted money knew the consequences. And Vicky Pryce, the woman scorned, who tried to revive an outdated medieval defence as a  “clever, clever ” device to exact revenge on her  husband.

Both are highly intelligent people and  it is a tragedy for politics and Whitehall that we have  lost two capable people who do contribute, whatever your views, to public life. It looks like a personal and public tragedy for their children.

But some of the comments have been off the wall. Simon Jenkins piece in The Guardian yesterday. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/12/huhne-pryce-jailing-inability-punish-public-failings)  where he described the jailing as a sort of mob rule revenge to appease the working classes was almost off the Richter scale in its perversity. If you don’t like Huhne’s grasp of politics, you punish him at the ballot box not in the courts. Then there was last night’s Evening Standard article – a portrait of Vicky Pryce (http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/friends-of-vicky-pryce-fear-for-her-health-shes-not-a-hardbitten-monster-prison-could-break-her-8532385.html) where the author quoted people saying the judge was a misogynist for suggesting that Vicky Pryce had been manipulative in organising her revenge through the Sunday Times.

Then they were the Guardian and Channel Four ” mea culpa” interviews with Chris Huhne  – one given according to the Standard to the journalist best man at his wedding. What next?  The creation of a Huhne concerto by piano playing Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger to commemorate the event or an Anna Wintour fashion show to raise cash for Vicky Pryce’s convalescence.

Vicky Pryce: picture courtesy Guardian

Vicky Pryce: picture courtesy Guardian

Obviously there is a craving among the chattering classes  to follow this soap opera. May I suggest that some budding dramatist puts all this to rest.  Perhaps Nicholas Hytner should get the National Theatre to commission a contemporary play contrasting the hubris of Westminster life with the downfall over a speeding ticket. It is has got everything – sex, power, a scorned woman, and macho driving.. It would be better than putting all this energy into a brilliant production of a revived 1930s German comedy, Captain Kopenik, which is rather irrelevant to modern British society. And Anthony Sher might make a good Chris Huhne.

No matter. My main point is that this is a distraction. While all these goes on thousands of people are being forced to move house because of cruel government policies, there is an epidemic of unsolved child abuse cases and the NHS appears to have let patients die unnecessarily on an epic scale.

Literally While Huhne fiddles Britain burns.

The bonkers logic of “Life of Brian” Leveson

Lord Justice Leveson: Bonkers  logic

Lord Justice Leveson: Bonkers logic

Now I have been given carte blanche by the Leveson inquiry to write what I want on blogs without any regulation I am going to take full advantage with some tough words for this judge on his lack of logic.

Like Lord Hutton before him who exonerated Labour over Iraq his report exonerates the current great and good in government and the media bosses from blame for the current crisis. Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, is cleared of bias over Murdoch;  News International’s Rebekah Brooks of undue lobbying of Cameron over the McCann inquiry or anything else; Cameron and his government of any  favours deal with the  Murdochs and the police of widespread corruption. Cameron can be trusted to introduce reforms to make sure  public perception is changed.

But go further into this report – see http://www.exaronews.com today.  Go to Volume Four and Appendix Five – and get one of the most devastating critiques of the incestuous relationship between top politicians and the media I have ever read from a High Court judge in my 26 years of political journalism.

Unlike Hutton he really puts the boot in. Here and I quote he attacks what he calls the ” inappropriate  closeness” between media bosses and successive governments not just now – but for over 35 years. Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron are all indicted in a damning charge sheet.

He baldly states “ politicians have conducted themselves in a way that I do consider has not served the public interest”.

He accuses them of being vulnerable to unaccountable interests, missing clear opportunities to address  public concern about the culture, practices and ethics of the press and  seeking “ to control ( if not manipulate) the supply of news and information to the public in return for expected or hoped-for favourable treatment by sections of the press.”

He concluded that all this gave rise to “legitimate perceptions and concerns that politicians and the press have traded power and influence in ways which are contrary to the public interest and out of public sight. These perceptions and concerns are inevitably particularly acute in relation to the conduct by politicians of public policy issues in relations to the press itself.”

Now where does he get that view. By page 1971  as a good judge he cites his sources. And guess who gets reams of footnotes, one, Rebekah Brooks, from the McCann inquiry to Brown ,Blair and Cameron – the very person in the main part of the report is absolved from dirty deals!

Perhaps I have misread this million word treatise –  Brian Leveson is  actually auditioning for a Monty Python script or to help revive Bremner, Bird and Fortune for Channel Four.

His other glaring lack of logic is the treatment of the internet as of no consequence. I have a sneaking suspicion he thinks the internet is tun by techy teenage geeks playing war games and mad loud mouths. In fact it is now becoming a powerful antidote and rival to the dead tree press as a forum for discussion and breaking news. The battle for future generation politics is being fought  between Owen Jones and Harry Cole  on-line every day.  And there would be no way this small one man blog would get 158,000 plus hits in less than three years if the internet has been ineffectual.

On the main issue of  regulation or no regulation, I am reserving judgement. My heart is with those who argue that a free press is just that, a free press. My head is revolted by the despicable practices of some of the tabloid bosses who may well now go to prison. I applaud  the idea of a journalist’s conscience clause and his views on treatment of women and people from ethnic minorities and a new  arbitration service that will give justice to Joe Public as well multi-millionaires. But I want to see what this new press act will look like before going down the road to statutory backing. Let debate begin.

Revealed: How Birthday Boy Dave really wooed Sam Cam

Samantha and David Cameron

Early on the Tuesday morning of the Tory conference while dosy hacks were still sleeping off the effects of late night parties,  a dapper 46 year old man was doing a spot of  exclusive shopping.

Taking advantage of privileged access to the most secure shopping mall in the UK  PM Dave and  his minders were planning a surprise present to placate his long-suffering wife. It might be his birthday but  Sam, the love of his life was getting a mite fed up with Devon B& Bs and kicking her heels  in airports waiting for easyJet flights. She was none too pleased that the birthday meal had to be at a simple Balti to assuage the austerity instincts of the  British people when there is fine dining  all over the Cotswolds.

Luckily for the PM the Birmingham conference plays host  for some of the most exclusive niche stores possible. Harvey Nicks, Tory donating Crombie and Quo Vadis, a   Birmingham jeweller, which makes unique  and exquisite pieces from precious stones.

Now what would Dave choose. Was it to be a 100 per cent cashmere ladies shawl wrap coat –  in Sam Cam’s fashionable black – retailing at £1275 from Crombies? The most expensive coat in the rack.

That could please her and a Tory donor to boot.

Or was it to be an exquisite piece of jewellery – the most expensive brooch  in the stall by Quo Vadis. This brooch of an ocean-going liner was made from an Australian boulder opal stone, its decks were made of diamonds and it had three 18 carat gold funnels. It was also the most expensive item in the shop – retailing at £5800.

Purchase this and a small businessman – the bed rock of the Tory Party – would be thrilled. But it  might remind Sam Cam of the Titanic, not an auspicious moment.

And then there was Harvey Nicks. They could sample their £50 of late bottled port and their champagne was not that exclusive, only up to £42 a bottle.

Perhaps the answer was a packet of wild jasmine tea – at £8.50 sufficiently exclusive – with the flowers searched out by hunter gatherers, true entrepreneurs  prepared to go the extra mile to find the petals and not strangled by  the EU bureaucracy of the social chapter.

Of course it can’t be said with the Leveson inquiry into press behaviour pending, exactly what Dave brought for Sam. It would be an intrusion of privacy. But what is not fiction are the prices of the goods on sale for the Tory faithful  in this secure shopping venue at a time when  people have difficulty making ends meet. As the woman from Harvey Nicks told me: ” We only come to the Conservatives, we don’t do Labour or the Liberal Democrats”. Enough said.