The Guardian’s editorial this morning proposes, I think, that it should be possible to put together an acceptable way of appointing the PCC-successor which excludes both legislation and OFCOM. I agree with that, but that hardly matters as I’m an elected MP. And everyone knows that MPs are only concerned about keeping their jobs at the next election, right? Well, kinda – except that the Guardian and others continually argue for electoral change because the majority of MPs have little chance of losing their seats at elections. But leaving aside that piece of incoherence, I’m struck by how much everyone’s punting the great and good as some kind of ideal solution to the whole Leveson business. That’s because such folk can be trusted to put their political views aside when the make the really big judgements which we can’t trust democratically elected folk to make, you see.
The Guardian, for example, proposes (as examples) Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti and Stewart Purvis, formerly of ITN and, er, OFCOM, to oversee a putative new press regulator. Well, I’m a fan of Shami’s but she’s obviously a seasoned political operator and while I’ve never discussed her politics with her I’m pretty sure she isn’t a Tory. Ditto Stewart Purvis. So how’s that any different from the much criticised Lords Hunt and Black? The same editorial also hints darkly that some of those consulted by Hunt and Black had vested interests in the newspapers, and that’s just not right. No? Well, Shami C took two days to issue an obscurely-reasoned ‘clarifier’ in respect of the inquiry of which she was an integral part and Stewart P is presently running a campaign against former BBC Director General Mark Thompson. That’s respectively because Liberty has to square circles with its other agendas (such as overweening state powers) and Professor Purvis, like all academics hired partly for their celebrity, has his own University funding agenda and whatnot. The truth is they’re both political all over the place, with a small p – their values and interests are expressed in all they do (otherwise why, for example, would Shami have issued her clarifier through her own organisation?) – yet we’re all supposed to pretend that doesn’t count.
Or what about Leveson’s (a distinguished person) own proposal that a committee of ‘distinguished senior civil servants’ appoint another committee of, er, distinguished people to – stay with me here – appoint an independent regulatory panel made up of distinguished people. Just how many goddamn distinguished people are there? Well, actually, there are tens of thousands of them running quangos all over the country. We reach for them because they’re without politics or personal agenda. Hang on, we what? In order to reach the top of any profession, multinational or charity, you have to be a subtle political operator in every respect, in your own interest and that of the organisation you’re loyal to (like Shami). And, by the way, you don’t leave your party political perspective in a sack in your bedroom when you serve as a ‘distinguished person’. That’s to misunderstand cause and effect – people support political parties because of the values they hold, not the other way around.
At the top, I left out the third Guardian exemplar, the Lord Chief Justice himself, Igor Judge. I once asked another supreme court judge if, early in his legal career, Igor changed his surname by deedpoll to the give him the edge, like. Apparently he didn’t. Now, I don’t deny for a second that Lord Igor is a distinguished person, but there’s a reason the Americans politically appoint their supreme court justices – it’s because they recognise that everyone has their own personal and political agenda and values, and that goes all the way to the top. And if you’re going to tell me that we don’t do it that way because we’re different in some significant way, then you may, as long as you’re not one of the folk telling me that a new statutory law on the press would be like a US first amendment. The First Amendment works as a guarantee that a simple whipped majority in congress can’t overturn the things the Americans hold most dear, and the final judgements are made in the supreme court by politicised judges. The Americans put their politics out front where everyone can see them.
Perhaps people in Britain simply like the idea of an unelected great and good running the country because we’re so disillusioned by politicians. Or perhaps the truth is darker. With every power handed-over to a distinguished ‘non-political person,’ we create new chances for hidden agendas to operate; new jobs for the ‘great and good’ at local and national level. A lot of people like it that way.