Apr 11

Royal wedding fever: sense (and nonsense)

Yesterday, the tweeters of politics were fascinated by the fallout from David Cameron saying “Calm down dear”, to a (female) Labour MP at Prime Minister’s Questions. In Washington, Barrack Obama was forced to devote a press briefing to disclosing his birth certificate. In this mad atmosphere, I abandoned my too-serious intention to write about the useful and increasing interest in verification in online news. Just didn’t seem to fit the mood.

Then I fell across (hat-tip: Martha Lane Fox) this piece by Tristram Hunt on tomorrow’s Royal Wedding. This pretty well nails it, especially thanks to Hunt’s depth of historical knowledge. He’s helping to explain why there’s a paradox in the royal soap opera.

When the royal family try too hard to perform for the media and to manipulate their image, it never goes well. When they ration the excitement and play it straight and cautious, the allure which Hunt describes very well holds steady. The Queen has always done it this way; Prince William and his fiancee look as they’ve got it too. Expect lots of commentary from metropolitan media sharpshooters in the next few years about what a boringly domestic couple Wills and Kate are. I suspect that’s exactly where they want to be. Whatever way William plays the media and celebrity, he isn’t likely to imitate his mother.

Tristram Hunt’s grasp of why something as apparently “illogical” as the monarchy endures in popularity is very much stronger than the prediction made by Jonathan Freedland in the New York Review of Books. Freedland acknowledges and analyses the Queen’s durable popularity but thinks that the firm will be in trouble when she dies. That’s to underestimate the strength of the institution. Freedland doesn’t seem to realise that individual members of the British royal family have been making embarrassing mistakes for centuries without interfering with the respect and affection for the idea of monarchy and the family as a whole. It is a very strange, but resilient, mystique.


Jan 11

A micro-manifesto on press freedom for David Cameron

The excellent Times columnist Bill Emmott suggests today that people should stop looking to America for the defence of important human freedoms. President Obama and the US are mired in too many difficulties and bad policies to be able to do that right now. Britain’s David Cameron, Emmott says (£), should step up to the challenge.

He starts with freedom of expression:

“So the task of promoting Western values can and should fall to Britain, for 2011 will offer the opportunity to strengthen our democratic credentials.

The most quixotic, but still satisfying, way would be for David Cameron’s Government to speak out strongly against Hungary’s new media law, for if EU treaties truly were statements of principle Hungary ought now to be expelled. That would also require Italy, with its media firmly under the thumb of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, to be kicked out, which is why it won’t happen. But it would be good for the Government and British pride to stand up in Europe for the freedom of the press.

Continue reading →


May 10

Coulson: is that a gun? Is it smoking?

Andy Coulson, ex-News of the World Editor and now David Cameron’s spin-doctor, has managed to steer mostly clear of the most recent revelations which have revealed a wider scale of phone-tapping at the News of the World than previously acknowledged. If Cameron makes it to No 10 Downing Street at the end of this week, odds are that Coulson will go there with his boss. Both men will be hoping that phone-tapping, and the sleazy private detectives who fixed it, will fade away.

But an elliptical hint of more revelations to come is buried in the back end of a story by Nick Davies in yesterday’s Guardian. The paragraph below didn’t make it into the print edition, but is on the web. Davies recalls that four private investigators were used by the paper while Coulson was deputy editor or editor and goes on:

“One of them was hired from his budget even though he had a track record of blackmail and the corruption of police officers. Coulson says he has no recollection of any of his journalists breaking any law.”

The opacity of that first sentence strongly suggests the presence of m’learned friends the lawyers or that something is sub judice for the time being. The “denial” in the second sentence of course is of something that hasn’t been alleged. More to come I’d guess.

Continue reading →


Apr 10

Rebekah and James go postal

The stresses and strains at the top of NewsCorp are beginning to look like King Lear in slow motion. When will ageing

James Murdoch

James Murdoch

King Rupert let go the reins of power and who will be best placed to benefit?  The tension burst into view when the heir-presumptive James Murdoch and News International’s Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks invaded the offices of The Independent to complain in person to Editor-in Chief Simon Kelner about a recent front page knocking Murdoch.

Michael Wolff of Newser is sometimes offbeam on Murdoch and NewsCorp, but this analysis of what’s at stake in the British election seems right on the nail.

Continue reading →