Even Saint Simon can't part the seas

LGA ALDC fringe Simon Hughes March 09
Creative Commons License photo credit: Liberal Democrats

Michael White says that Simon Hughes should not have taken his unpaid role with the government, because it will sully his oppositionist purity. If Simon carried that on for life, one could justifiably ask the question “What is Simon Hughes for?”

You could argue that the role could be undertaken by anyone. However, Simon is uniquely placed as an advocate to encourage those from poorer backgrounds into higher education. And there is definitely a great danger that the recent hoo-haa about tuition fees will obscure some of the genuinely progressive parts of the university funding package.

For evidence of the way this story has been misconstrued, you only need to look at the Guardian’s write-up of Simon’s new role:

Simon Hughes gets higher education role – Liberal Democrat deputy leader to advise on helping poor go to college, but £9,000 fees will remain

He’s not deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats for starters. He is deputy leader of the parliamentary party – only a difference between being elected by a body of a couple hundred people versus tens of thousands.

And the £9,000 fees are an exception which will happen only when universities fund the scholarship scheme which is specifically designed to help those from poorer backgrounds go to university.

So, the Guardian has managed to come up with a double-whammy there. – Unreasonably scaring people about the fees while obscuring the advantage to the poor which that very measure is specifically designed for.

So Saint Simon is much needed. Though I don’t hold up much hope of him of converting Fleet Street on this issue. …That really would be the 21st century equivalent of parting the seas.

The simplicity of the rules of the cricket

England retain the Ashes
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ben Sutherland

Well done to the England Cricket Team for retaining the Ashes. I stayed up late to listen to the commentary from Melborne. It was a very proud moment.

The next day, I found myself trying, perhaps inadequately, to explain what “retaining the Ashes” means. It was a longish task (and was followed by a, frankly gratuitous, challenge for me to recite the football offside rule).

It reminded me of this explanation of the rules of cricket, which I first saw printed on a tea cloth:

You have two sides, one out in the field and one in.
Each man that’s in the side that’s in the field goes out and when he’s out comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out.
When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in.
When they are all out, the side that’s out comes in and the side that’s been in goes out and tries to get those coming in out.
Sometimes there are men still in and not out.
There are men called umpires who stay out all the time, and they decide when the men who are in are out.
Depending on the weather and the light, the umpires can also send everybody in, no matter whether they’re in or out.
When both sides have been in and all the men are out (including those who are not out), then the game is finished.

Is it compliant or legal to allegedly use subterfuge to find out precisely zippo from the most straight-forward MP in the known universe?

So, it’s the final day of the Telegraph’s surgery revelations. The earth shakes as we find out that Jeremy Browne thinks the Tories had a “harsh” immigration policy. Mountains tremble as we read that Sarah Teather ‘stuck to the script’. (I’m not sure how the “honey trap” element of the Telegraph’s ruse worked or didn’t work in the latter case.)

Let’s strip away all the other cases and, for the sake of argument, just focus on the case of Sarah Teather. Is it compliant with the Press Complaints Commission’s code to allegedly use subterfuge to find out allegedly precisely nothing from someone whose track record would lead one to suspect that she would be nothing other than straight-forward in the confines of a constituency surgery?

And is such an action legal? As legal expert and former LibDem MP David Howarth says:

…there is an even more serious possibility for the journalists and for their newspaper: the criminal law. Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006 makes it a criminal offence, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to dishonestly make a false representation with the intention of putting someone at risk of pecuniary loss or with the intention of making a pecuniary gain for another.

Unlike in the civil law, what counts is the defendants’ intention to cause harm, rather than the actual result. Did the journalists and their editors intend through dishonest false statements to put ministers at risk of losing their jobs? Did they intend to make money for their paper? If either is true, a criminal offence has taken place. There is no free-standing public interest defence. Perhaps the journalists involved should now be preparing their answers to those questions.