Thanks, Brian, but no thanks

Posted on November 28, 2012

It would be in my interests for Brian Leveson to support statutory regulation of the press tomorrow.

As Guido Fawkes writes in the Wall Street Journal today, putting a legislative leash around the neck of the mainstream media will only have one effect – to drive a truth-hungry public to online outlets and blogs for real news and honest insight.

This has always happened. When the Warsaw Pact countries and the Soviet Union censored what could be published, people shipped in or built their own presses and produced samizdat – illicit, underground news-sheets and books that circulated in secret. It is notable that the Russian word “samizdat” literally means “self-published”.

Samizdats were never expected to be subject to balance, they were explicitly written from a particular perspective and, most of all, they gloried in saying whatever they wanted – not saying what others demanded they say.

If, 50 years ago, people’s hunger for a free speaking press was sufficient that they were willing to transport and conceal large pieces of industrial machinery, the internet will have a far easier job of it.

Information is a commodity in its own right. It can be bought and sold, it can be given away or stolen, its price can be increased or devalued. And just the same as any other commodity, the one thing that cannot be done to it is successful prohibition.

The problem – and those who dislike our free press do view it as a problem – is the twin, trickster forces of supply and demand. The more people are interested in something, the higher its price rises and the harder it is to keep secret. The harder you try to keep it secret, the larger the incentive becomes to leak it – be it for cash or cachet.

This is what happened with MPs’ expenses. Yes, Heather Brooke fought a brilliant legal battle for the public’s right to know, but the scandal really broke when the censorship practiced by Commons authorities created such a high-paying Black Market that an insider was willing to sell the data to the Daily Telegraph.

These forces are inevitable, irresistible and they won’t be changed by legislating to make our press unfree. If the Daily Telegraph hadn’t been in a position to buy and publish MPs’ expenses, then someone else would have done so – on the internet, offshore and out of reach of the fat, black marker pens of Westminster’s quiet censors.

For goodness’ sake, the net filtering out forbidden commodities isn’t even tight enough to catch guns, grenades and tonnes of drugs – can anyone really believe it could be made tight enough to catch something as small and as fleet of foot as knowledge?

So I, and Guido, and a thousand other blogs yet to be born would be in a pretty good position should Brian Leveson persuade the Government to end three hundred years of British press freedom. Advertising would increase, traffic would boom, and everyone would be able to feel every shade of smug about their latest Google Analytics numbers.

But you won’t find me cheering for it. What would be the attraction of being a more widely read, or even a richer, libertarian in a country that has become less free? No, I’d rather miss out on the opportunity, thank you very much, Brian.

The Daily Mail owe me a new keyboard

Posted on September 13, 2012

The Daily Mail has a horrifying quite remarkable interview with Edwina Currie today, written by Jan Moir on the back of the paper’s serialisation of her diaries. It’s simultaneously vomitous, unintentionally hilarious and fascinating in the same way as those videos uploaded to Youtube where a teenage skater breaks his arm trying some ill-advised stunt.

I’ll put a health warning on this – only those possessed of a particularly strong stomach or a particularly weak imagination should read the whole piece. In the interests of public safety, I’ve read it for you, and picked out some of the most, err, memorable sections:

Got to say it: the 65-year-old former junior health minister is looking good. Her sausagey, brunette curls are as bouncy as ever, her skin is excellent, she oozes the same indestructible confidence of yesteryear, even if she is worried about her weight.

“Sausagey”? I’m not sure that comes across quite as the compliment it was seemingly intended to be, Jan. So now we are greeted by an image of Edwina Currie whose head is adorned with long bags of ground-up meat, like some kind of butchershop Valkyrie.

‘Was I sex-obsessed? Well I certainly wasn’t cupcake-obsessed, let’s put it that way.’

Good to know – but having ruled-out cupcake obsession, does that inherently rule in sex obsession? Or just leave open the door to obsessions with sheds, magpies or petrol tankers?

Elsewhere in the book, she is constantly measuring others up to herself and finding them wanting. No one is quite good enough. Ex-husband Ray is dim and boring. Norman Lamont is sly and self-indulgent. Libby Purves is fat and tatty. Paddy Ashdown is not very bright, Michael Portillo is unpleasant, Michael Howard is oily and Ann Widdecombe is aggressive.

But other than that, the 90s were great.

‘I am quite a fan of David Cameron. He understands duty. He’s got charm, he’s emollient, he’s got a face like a nicely creamed baby’s bottom.’

Like a what? I’m sure Downing Street will be if not delighted, then at least utterly bewildered and slightly troubled by that.

On her first date with former murder squad copper JJ — after he had appeared as a guest on her Radio 5 Live show — she found herself well and truly locked up in the jail of love.

Alan Partridge has found a gateway into the real world, and he is writing under the pseudonym “Jan Moir”.

‘I don’t regret the affair with [John Major]. I don’t do regrets,’ she says. And even after all this time, a glazed and faraway look creeps into her eyes when she thinks of him, rather like a panther eyeing a crippled vole that’s just appeared on the horizon.

Trust me, even the panthers and the crippled voles are cringeing at that one. What does it even mean? It’s hard to imagine what kind of “faraway look” a panther adopts when it spots a crippled vole appearing on the horizon. Perhaps it’s a look that says “wow – check out that vole, it’s totally knackered”, or a lingering regret that without any opposable thumbs it can’t film this for LOLs with other panthers at a later date. Or, more probably, simply a look that says “Roar, miaow, roar”.

‘John Major was a sexy beast. I think his history shows that. He was 19 when he was living with a woman who was 33. Believe me, I did not have to teach that man anything.’

And there it goes – my lunch, vengefully returned from its rightful place, all over the keyboard. I’ll be sending the Mail an invoice.