Are the Non-Murdoch media now threatening a select committee member?

Some concerning tweets about Louise Mensch MP.

I know Louise Mensch MP slightly. I was at university at the same time and we have some mutual friends. At Freshers' Fayre she tried to sign me up for the "Rock Society" (I manfully resisted, being a Stranglers and Damned fan).

I am certainly not a political supporter of hers, but she is not someone to be under-estimated and she is rightly regarded as being among the more able of the new intake of MPs. And so, against this background, I was rather concerned to see certain tweets last night.

Martin Bright, formerly of this magazine, asked publicly:

Are the media trying to intimidate @LouiseMensch?

Now, why would they do that? Well, as is well known, Mensch asked Rupert Murdoch directly if he had considered resigning at this week's select committee hearing. But I suspect that Martin did not mean anyone at News International.

There has rightly been attention paid to Mensch's incorrect claim that Piers Morgan had openly boasted in some book about phone hacking. I understand she will now retract that statement when Parliament reconvenes. All the same, the fact does remain that Piers Morgan was editor of the Daily Mirror during part of the time covered by the ICO report, "What Price Privacy".

Her substantive point is that hacking and blagging was prevalent throughout the British tabloid press. It is widely believed that the tabloid press is apprehensive that the phone hacking and blagging scandal would spread beyond News International.

Two days after the Select Committee, it was reported that the police had asked for the evidence in the so-called "Motorman" files. If this is correct, then this means newspaper groups other than News International are now in the frame for certain offences.

Mensch tells me that this week she suddenly started to receive a lot of attention from the non-Murdoch tabloid groups. I am told that her office even received a strange call from a newspaper, immediately after the Select Committee hearings ended: the ominous question posed was "Can you confirm you are pregnant?". There have been a range of other press contacts.

Guido Fawkes has now tweeted there are orders to "get Mensch" from the "very top" and there would be a damaging story about her private life this coming Sunday. I do not know if that is correct; but it certainly is not a pleasant prospect for anyone.

In fact this all becoming very odd, and it is also worrying. To her credit, Mensch has decided not to be intimidated by this sudden tabloid interest in her private life, and has chosen to reveal the apparent intimidation to the New Statesman. If this is an intended intimidation exercise, then it would raise the troubling concern that may be some attempt to pressure or discredit a member of a parliamentary select committee.

It will be interesting to see what Sunday brings, and - indeed - what Mensch and the select committee have to do in response.

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent for the New Statesman.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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