This week super injunctions have once again, ironically, been in the news, largely thanks to a confession from the BBC’s Andrew Marr. He believes the balance has strayed too far in favour of gagging the media, despite having his own super injunction to conceal an affair. He supports the call of many to put the rules back in front of MPs for debate. Why should such extreme privacy only be available to mega rich politicians, TV stars or footballers?
They may be able to keep a lid on certain stories with their fat cheques but they can’t stop us discussing the issue itself. And it’s a difficult and ethically complex problem. On the one hand we can’t have censorship coming before free speech, but to live in a free society privacy is also important. Continually we are told that if a story is in the “public interest” it shouldn’t be hidden away under lock and key. But what does that actually mean? The hypothetical (but all too common) “footballer and a prostitute” scenario, is wheeled out by both sides of the argument again and again.
Those speaking up for the principle of super injunctions argue that what anyone does sexually is their own business, just as their health or bank details are. Footballers are private individuals that just happen to be prominently in the public eye. But the reason they are so closely studied by the media and their fans is not what they do off the field, but on it. Any personal problems they may have, whether it’s the fallout from shagging Imogen Thomas, an addiction to scratch cards or a fear of candyfloss, should be resolved in their own time and space without intrusion.
On the other hand of course the opponents will bellow in outrage that footballers are role models for our children and should behave as such. They may be talented but with such lucratively rewarding contracts they should act responsibly in return, and concentrate on delivering the best performance they can, week in week out in a professional manner, without the distraction of off the field turmoil. Season ticket holders, investors and fans in general may all feel justified in wanting to know whether their star striker is wasting his wages and fitness on whores after training sessions.
I have to say I have more sympathy with the pro-privacy side of the argument, when it comes to footballers and their whores at least. Of course with the ludicrous money they’re earning they should be focusing on giving our clubs’ the best they can offer on the pitch every weekend. But frankly I don’t care about their numerous and identical scandals. It’s an inevitability that young men, their wallets brimming with cash, end up disgracing themselves and living dangerously. If they can play brilliantly and indulge their dirty hobbies in private, then so be it. I don’t watch football to judge morality.
It’s only when the scandals are published that they become disgusting influences on our children, when the role models become corrupted and misery heaped on the club and the player’s personal life. And as for the “public interest” argument, there are minimal grounds for exposure for the genuine good of the population. The public’s interest in rumour and gossip is another matter altogether to their wellbeing and rights.
Ignore what I just said though. I may not be at all interested in hearing of their latest filthy fumbles, but for everyone to turn a blind eye would mean the disrespectful bastards get away with it time after time. Enough of them already escape the consequences by wielding their wealth for a super injunction or a quiet payoff for the mistress. Countless clowning cocks lucky enough to play football for a living probably simply get away with it because they’re not good enough, or famous enough, for anyone to care if they cheat on their wives and the mothers of their children.
There will undoubtedly be cases when it’s best and fairest if privacy is maintained. There will be others with a real and pressing “public interest”, far more vital than a lustful midfielder’s latest lay, that must see the scrutinizing light of publicity. The only sensible way to deal with the issue is on a case by case basis.
When it comes to football though, like it or not, there is a paparazzi culture for finding out the bedroom deeds of the Premiership’s so called “stars”. The players know this is a fact of life as much as we do. If they want their right to privacy preserved the only way forward is for them to start behaving gratefully and respectfully. They should appreciate what they have enough not to jeopardise it. There’s no need for super injunctions without scandal in the first place.
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The aftermath of the General Election on May the 6th has undoubtedly been historic and produced an unexpected, new kind of government. There have been grand claims that politics has somehow fundamentally altered, as if parliament had literally been strung up by the electorate, leaving corpses of the old way strewn about Westminster. Whilst scepticism as to these claims of a newly purified political class is wise, it is also foolish to deny the scale of the change that has taken place.
For in many ways Nick Clegg is not wrong to claim that a new era of political history has been ushered in, replacing the way things were forever more. For the first time since the Second World War the country is guided by a coalition government and crucially the two party seesaw between Labour and the Conservatives has been interrupted. This is truly an exciting time in British politics and a time of change and the coalition has sought to highlight just how daringly different it will be to the “old” system, in order to paper over cracks in its hurriedly assembled agreement. It might be true that the deal between the Conservatives and Lib Dems has changed politics forever but it does not ensure sudden transparency, honesty and fairness. David Cameron wishes the public to acknowledge how enormously grown up he has been to get into bed with Nick Clegg for the “national interest” and to paint a picture of a more civilized, cooperative government. He hopes to ride a wave of popularity, based on doing the right thing and getting things done through compromise, all the way to the next election.
Whilst Nick Clegg’s surge in the polls during the election campaign, following his effective use of the TV debates, did not translate into an increased number of Lib Dem seats it did show his potential for popularity. In many ways the popular backing Cameron will gain from embracing Clegg is more valuable than the stable Commons majority afforded to him by the Lib Dem MPs. The new Prime Minister has instructed his Deputy to direct a programme of political reform including a PR elected House of Lords, a referendum on Alternative Vote and a “Great Repeal” Act. Clegg understandably sought to emphasise the liberal opportunities open to him and the extent to which the state would be rolled back in favour of the individual. Whilst Cameron is likely to incur the wrath of his backbenchers he is also likely to acquire new support from the public from those keen to see reform. And the anxious Tories needn’t worry, as Clegg’s grand programme is only likely to yield moderate reform that the two coalition parties agree on such as the right to sack MPs, whilst giving the impression of something far more inspiring to the nation.
Cameron then appears to be manipulating Clegg’s role for his own long term benefit. Combine this with the lack of women in the new cabinet, the high proportion of privately educated ministers and the misuse of the coalition’s honeymoon goodwill to conceal realities of deficit reduction with talk of quangos and waste once again, and very little about politics seems to have changed. However as I have said the breakthrough of a third party into the status quo cannot be underestimated. Fresh ideas and policies can liven up the new government’s agenda, with the Lib Dems winning some surprising concessions in the negotiations. Part of the radical redistribution of the tax system advocated by the Lib Dems will go ahead, for example. Crucially for those on the left of the party, the Liberals also have the opportunity to restrain the worst of Tory policy, with inheritance tax the headline casualty from the Conservative manifesto. As I have argued previously the Lib Dems were absolutely right to enter into a coalition, and those opposing it from within cannot be genuinely serious about making a difference through the best of their own policy and halting the worst of their new partners. However as the Labour leadership race accelerates it is understandable that many Lib Dems might fear for the future prospects of their party following the coalition deal.
Following the deal Labour was boosted by an influx of disaffected Lib Dem voters, who felt betrayed. This is perhaps not surprising given that many may have voted Lib Dem primarily to avoid a Tory government. Labour also did better than it might have done in the election, retaining a strong base upon which to build as the only party in opposition, with plenty of targets to aim at. It will be tempting for the victorious candidate in the Labour leadership election to score easy points by demolishing the morally compromised Lib Dems and continuing to snatch their supporters. However I hope that the winning candidate has the foresight and sense of fairness to realise that avoiding a return to the old tussle between red and blue will benefit democracy and leave the Tories weakened. It will be a difficult balance to strike, but the new Labour leader should not alienate the Lib Dems and dismiss its contribution to taming the Tory beast. They should rebuild the party to appeal to a wide range of voters, embracing the progressive agenda of the Lib Dems to isolate the Tories. Hurriedly looting Lib Dem support would only strengthen the Conservatives in the long run and rob the country of genuinely needed new direction and debate. The coalition will limp to the next election on the brink of disintegration from internal disagreement, battered from without by the pain of deficit reduction and media scrutiny of scandals like that of David Laws. Labour and the Liberal Democrats must be careful that whenever this government does end, the Conservatives and David Cameron do not escape blame.
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Tagged 2010, Cameron, Clegg, Coalition, Cuts, deficit, future, General Election, Honesty, Labour, May 6th, MPs, New Politics, Parliament, reform