Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Unwitted Consequences

Single man meets single woman on dating site – nothing salacious, no story even for the gutter press.

The man is a cabinet minister – again no story just sympathy for someone in the public eye trying to form a relationship.

The woman has a chequered professional past – again no real story; dating websites are said to be full of profiles that don’t exactly tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Relationship ends – again no story just sympathy for someone in the public eye trying to form a relationship.

So why are we abuzz with stories of hypocrisy, lack of transparency and conflicts of interest?

The woman’s professional past is said to be in the sex industry – which must raise the pulse of those journalists who delight in exposing salacious details of the rich and powerful.

But the man is the cabinet minister responsible for regulating the press.

This is where it gets complex – and frustrating for those journalists denied their normal release.

The press say that (post Leveson) they decided that they should not run this sort of salacious story and that the (day-time) role of the man is “irrelevant” and it is not in the public interest to “expose” him. How very decent of them. Exposing a celebrity couple that indulge in a three-some is however another matter – it’s “in the public interest”!

But the minister knows they know, so is he now in some way indebted to them for not embarrassing him?

He says not, but there is some indication that he informed the cabinet secretary of the possible embarrassment. The Prime Minister was either not told or decided that the potential conflict of interest was not a problem.

So the man continues to be the cabinet minister responsible for press regulation and is arguably responsible for the fluffed implementation of regulation post Leveson – which many say has let the press off the hook. This leaves many wondering why? Why was Leveson fluffed, why is the press of the hook – and why is the press letting him of the hook? You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours?

He is also the cabinet minister responsible for the media – including the BBC, an organisation about which he, the government and most of the press seems to have very mixed feelings.

The BBC gets wind of the story and the press reluctance to run the original “Cabinet minister dates Sex Worker” sex-story and runs the “Cabinet minister in hock to the press” conflict of interest story, arguing that the latter is in the public interest. Exposing ministers in a conflict of interest, whilst possibly of little interest to the public, is in the public interest.

So is the BBC genuinely exposing this conflict of interest – or using the alleged conflict of interest as a mask for the salacious sex-story (where the man is innocent of any wrong – unless he was particularly brutal in ending what might otherwise have been a genuine relationship). Titter thee not!

Arguably if they joined the press in “sitting on the story” they too could have had some form of hold over the minister – although playing that card in the midst of a dispute over renewal of the licence might be problematic! By running the story they are consciously destroying the opportunity to have a hold over the minister – something the press cannot claim.

The press is trying to look as if post-Leveson they are “reformed”; am I cynical for not believing them?

The BBC is trying to claim the high-ground – but having a quiet snigger! Do I believe them?

The minister has had an embarrassing (but not illegal) episode in his private life – how many feel “there but for the grace of God, go I”? If he had already mentioned it as a potential difficulty to the Cabinet Secretary it is hard to substantially criticise him. But he should feel uncomfortable about the conflict of interest.

However, if the Prime Minister knew, the PM is left looking exposed. This is the Prime Minister that took Press Regulation off Vince Cable after he had been honey-potted into making some injudicious statements about Murdoch to a couple of “constituents”. Sauce for goosed Cable should be sauce for gandering Wittingdale.

But then I suspect that the PM like Wittingdale feel more beholden to the press than they do to the BBC.

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