Coffee House

In praise of self-appointed detectives

26 February 2013

So Nick Clegg is annoyed with those ‘self-appointed detectives’ who are ‘trying to piece together events that happened many years ago’ on the Lord Rennard allegations. It’s not a surprise, really, that the Lib Dem leader is annoyed with journalists at the moment: after all, if it hadn’t been for Cathy Newman’s report last week, the Lib Dems wouldn’t be in this awkward position of having to piece the allegations together themselves through an inquiry. Which says something interesting about the party’s attitude towards the allegations themselves, does it not, given the women involved, irritated by the party’s response to the complaints they say they tried to make, decided that only a journalist, not an HR officer or a party colleague, could improve the situation.

One of those women, Alison Smith, expressed her own irritation with Clegg’s comments this afternoon, but his camp are arguing that the Lib Dem leader didn’t mean the press when he was talking about detectives. Which does beg the question of who did he mean?


The party has now responded to those annoying news reports by setting up two separate inquiries, and Lord Rennard, who continues to deny all accusations of impropriety, will give evidence when the time comes. That is good, but let’s remember that it was a journalist who sparked this, not a high-minded Lib Dem. Simon Hughes’ dark mutterings yesterday about the ‘timing’ of the report underlined this attitude: this story is an inconvenience, not a suggestion that perhaps even the saintly Lib Dems can get things wrong.

They’re not the only ones in parliament who think that way: George Eustice, who campaigned for statutory underpinning of press regulation, said in a debate last month that journalists should give ‘politicians the credit for doing what they do most of the time, which is to say what it is that they actually believe’. A press that trusts politicians, or a political class that trusts the press is not good for democracy, actually, and it’s those sorts of cosy relationships of trust that those pushing for press reform should want, not encourage. Too much trust meant the public didn’t know about the way MPs abused the expenses system until 2009, after all. Incidentally, Eustice wrote in The Guardian this morning that he backed the government’s plan for a Royal Charter to underpin the new independent press regulator, which will come as a relief to Oliver Letwin, whose brainchild it is. Defenders of Leveson are bound to point out, though, that the first story in this scandal came from a broadcaster, not a newspaper. But the point is that politicians don’t like journalists in any sector, sometimes because they behave in an unacceptable fashion, but often because they behave in an inconvenient fashion.

Goodness knows journalists have made some terrible mistakes in recent years, but making life uncomfortable for people in public office by holding them to account isn’t one of them.

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  • Gary Wintle

    You mean the same press that continuously praised Jimmy Saville for his “charidee” work, and were strangely uninterested in Saville, yet happy to hack the phones of dead girls and slander the Hillsborough victims (Kevlin Mackenzie’s cowardly running away from Channel 4 News’ last year springs to mind). It’s worth noting that Jerry Sadowtiz, Victor Lewis-Smith, and Chris Morris (on Radio 1, no less) all called out Saville’s vileness, while Harry Enfield (again on BBC) lampooned his “charidee”.
    And let’s not forget the Daily Mail printing pictures of 14 year old girls in bikinis (“hasn’t she grown!”), pandering to their paedo readers.
    The press has largely ignored, for example, HSBC’s funding of Al Qaeda, perhaps because our bankers are too big to criticize.

  • Swiss Bob

    I’m impressed with the way Clegg has taken a minor scandal and turned it into not only a disaster for himself personally but also for dropping so many colleagues in the mire.

    Funniest laugh so far: Toynbee and her ‘It’s a Tory conspiracy’ theory, mad old bat.

  • evad666

    Remember the Cegg (scottish for a Horse Fly) is a trained Eurocrat in waiting he supports the EU even with its current anti democratic stance.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Clog rather than Cegg surely? A rather wooden looking and noisy anachronism of Dutch association, only one of which is of no use to man or beast.

  • Austin Barry

    The LibDems are an absurdity.

    Whenever I try, infrequently, to take the LibDems seriously a number of images come to mind which nip the notion in the bud: Rinka being assassinated on Exmoor instead of her rather louche owner by, allegedly, Liberal dictat; the waddling enormity of Cyril Smith being excused of his recondite pursuits by then Liberal leader David Steel who commented ‘All he seems to have done is spanked a few bare bottoms’ and last but not least the rather forlorn figure of Mark Oaten attempting to regenerate his thinning hair with liberal applications of expensively procured natural substances.

    And now images inspired by the current lot: Huhne, Laws etc. etc.

    What a complete bunch of pious, holier-than-thou nitwits.

    • Gary Wintle

      But all politicians are like that, of all parties. If you think any of them are sincere you’re a fool. Most of them enter politics as a way to get cushy jobs at banks and our parasitic utilities and public transport clown boards.
      Britain needs a Beppe Grillo to shake things up.

      • Wessex Man

        You are both making the same mistake of under estimating them, yes they are trying to put a lid on this story but you can bet that hey will be striving ever harder to gag our press as a result!

    • ButcombeMan

      You forgot Paddy Pantsdown and the swivel eyed Evan Harris taking an illegal drug on TV, with the appropriately named, Professor Nutt.

      How did anyone ever take Clegg or any of them, seriously? They surely do not, now.

  • ButcombeMan

    What we are dealing with here is monumental management incompetence. It matters not if the allegations are true, partially true or untrue. They were made, consistently apparently, by several people.

    Any manager worth his or her salt, in public or private sector knows or ought to, that these things have to be dealt with, faced up to, enquired into and the subject of the allegations should receive an interview without coffee (or not), with management notes made, written warning issued (or not) and adequate records, to protect the manager to protect the organisation and to protect (if necessary) those making the allegations.

    Any manager and management system, that had done those very basic things could have answered honestly & frankly, from the beginning. That is not what Clegg did.

    Clegg is done for. He is one of a political class of monumental management incompetents. They are like that because they do not know how the real world works.

    I am a father of daughters. Clegg disgusts me.

    • Gary Wintle

      Clegg mucks up: “OMG! MUH MORALS! MUH FEMINISM! MUH SCANDAL!”HSBC funds Al Qaeda and Mexican drug cartels: Tumbleweed rolls past.

      • Colonel Mustard


  • 2trueblue

    Clegg is miffed that it is the LibDums that are getting the flack right now and not his coalition partners. The politicians are very slow to regulate anything that involves them, the expenses scandal being the best example, where they were spending our money with gay abandon, and still are. The press brought the story into the mainstream but even there, we did not get the full story. Most was made out of stories about cleaning moats, and duck houses, when the real money was being made on house ‘flipping’ and renting rooms from relatives and friends.
    Clegg has had a very easy ride and thinks that he can have it his way. He does not respond to being challenged.

    • Gary Wintle

      Channel 4 News, which is vastly superior to our idiotic press, bought the story into the mainstream,

  • therealguyfaux

    While it’s all well and nice that we want journos to break stories about how politicians are all-around scurvy humans, let’s not let them turn into Robert Duvall in The Natural, who tells Robert Redford to the effect of Redford is no star till Duvall makes him one– Duvall has a duty to the game of baseball, to prevent pretenders from entering the pantheon. In other words, Redford, kiss my behind, and I’ll make sure I write nice things about you, and I won’t print how you got shot years ago by a questionable woman you hadn’t ought to have been shagging; sure you were a naive boy who didn’t realise what you were getting yourself into– sure, that’s the truth, but that’s not how I’m going to write it. Duvall fancies himself the kingmaker rather than the King, and of course he will make the most of it. All the dirty business behind the scenes which Redford and Duvall both know exists is to be disregarded so long as the product on the field isn’t “tainted.” And if you, AND the game, ARE somehow (but not through me) found to be tainted, (*feigned horror*) “I’m shocked– SHOCKED!”

    About all that can be said in favour of taking the side of the journos in this symbiosis of sleaze is that the journos cannot directly cost you your life and treasure as can the pol’s.

  • toco10

    So it seems like goodnight and good riddance to Clegg and Leveson’s absolute control of the press by politicians.Phew!Now perhaps we can all return to normal albeit to the inconvenience of certain self important celebrities.

    • Gary Wintle

      Or perhaps the criminal activities of the Al Qaeda terrorists HSBC.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Don’t you believe it. None of these “reforming” ideas have gone away. We live in an age when arrogant thirty-something politicians and their gap year era wonks really believe that in the span of their greasy pole climbing careers they can “improve” on a millenium of evolution and toil by far better men.

  • Daniel Maris

    I think most people find this whole story yawn-inducing. It’s hardly crime of the century even if it is reprehensible and not to be condoned.

    • Tom Tom

      It may be a yawn to you Daniel but you are a LibDem anyway. Abuse of positions of authority and power may be acceptable to you. For many of us, it is time to instill fear into politicians and administrative elites – fear of consequences.

    • Victor Southern

      A fish rots from the head. This story is about the powerful in politics behaving like feudal lords or prelates.

  • Russell

    We know politicians cannot be trusted, they have shown themselves to be corrupt, liars, cheats, fraudsters and criminals. Unfortunately for the millions of law abiding taxpayers who are honest and have integrity, we have also seen these same characteristics in journalists, police, public sector executives, bankers, to name just a few areas full of highly overpaid people. All of these disgraceful people are paid for by the honest millions of our society. No wonder the Italians at least are starting to show their disgust with politicians. I look forward to the day when the British electorate will similarly show their disgust with our politicians, hopefully starting with Eastleigh,

  • Gaudi

    One of the most disturbing bits of information from the Levenson Inquiry was the very close friendship journalists have with politicians. I wonder how willing you are as a journalist to write a piece likely to end a career if you have sat at the dinner table with their wife/husband and kids more than a few times. It’s not statutory underpinning thats the problem, it’s the far too cosy relationships which are more like stifle journalism. When I read anything now I look at the name of the journalist and judge accordingly.

    • HookesLaw

      Friendships? They go on holiday together? Appear on editions of Pointless?
      How do journalists get news, how do politicians think openly or even speak freely without a twist being put on what they say?

      • Tom Tom

        Robert Maxwell kept them quiet even as an MP. Carter-Ruck did a good line in policing journalists….using the libel laws Cameron is hesitating to reform

    • Daniel Maris

      Where had you been up until the Levenson Inquiry? A cloistered monastery?

      • Gaudi

        Yes, you are probably right. It was naive of me. I still think it makes it difficult to do your job if by publishing a story it will destroy a career. Best to keep a professional distance.

    • Tom Tom

      You should expect that, they are University friends and some of those journalists are on Candidate Lists which is why they get their jobs. Think of journalists like Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper, Ruth Kelly, de Pietro, Ben Bradshaw, Steven Milligan, Austin Mitchell, etc etc

    • Colonel Mustard

      They are all the same. A privileged and wealthy left liberal elite who want us to do as they say rather than they do. A “war” of cosiness between the politicians and the media that only turns nasty when one or other fails to scratch a back. The joke is that the “establishment” they destroyed to “improve” the world was better than this for all its faults.

  • Archimedes

    It really is extraordinary, the way they’re handling this. Simon Hughes had a bit of a holier-than-thou attitude on Newsnight last night, which was hardly endearing. It’s all a very idealistic approach to PR. That might work when you’re in control of the situation, Nick, but not when you’ve lost control – then you’re at the mercy of events: act accordingly.

    • HookesLaw

      Libdems are holier than thou. Its their USP.

    • dalai guevara

      Ergo if the blue ribboned didn’t even win this one, what would that mean?

    • Tom Tom

      Simon Hughes has form – he has quite a track record on falsehoods

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