The Leveson Pattern
Like an entire nation of cack-handed explorers, we are encouraged to look at everything through a telescope – first through the wrong end, so that everything appears minute; then through the magnifying end, so that everything looks gargantuan. Look! The problem is tiny: one rogue reporter. Look! The problem is huge: the ethics of all the press. In truth the problem is life-size and right in front of us.
And this approach has become quite a favourite. The problem is one rogue fundraiser – the problem is all party funding. The problem is one very evil cleric – the problem is all European Human Rights legislation. The problem is one very naughty special adviser; one over-enthusiastic lobbyist; one closeted minister; one Christmas dinner; one park bin; one disobedient civil servant.
The net result? In order to save a Secretary of State (a job which, it is increasingly apparent, life-forms which crawled out of a swamp five minutes ago could do, part-time, while drunk) we sacrifice the head of Border Force. A few months before we host the biggest international event in four decades. Cue – total disarray at the borders, three-hour passport waits, Joan Collins’ shoulder-pads in a twist.
We stand there in our safari outfits, looking at our compass, wondering “However did we get here?”
And “how we got here” matters a great deal. Because these are important, precious, fragile, vital issues. The Freedom of the Press; Human Rights; Immigration control; Accountability in public life. To reform them, requires to approach them openly, generously, make suggestions without fear, be open to recommendations. If, instead, we go into them because of a cock-up, those who need to give information are tight-lipped, those who should make recommendations are afraid, those who would accept them are defensive.
We’re trying to repair our priceless vases with a hammer, in a panic. And if we end up smashing them – rest assured: The problem will have been one rogue, European, Muslim, immigrant, benefit-scrounging, homosexual, butterfingers restorer.
A little personal plug; actually two.
You can read my first article for the New Statesman here: “Lazy, Feckless Greeks”
I have been part of Rory Bremner’s writing team for his Radio4 show “Tonight”. Exquisite satire, executed with military precision by the team. Listen to the first two episodes.