Hate, Actually...

Why is it that the British only seem able to solve a crisis through the emotion of hate?

Last year the MPs expenses scandal meant politicians were the hate figures of choice. Today it is the turn of Rebekah Brooks. But wait a minute --surely we should also hate the police officers and the nurses who have sold information to News of the World, presumably as a result of their hatred of celebrities who have more money than them?

We should definitely hate David Cameron; first for not holding an inquiry and then when he does for not holding the kind of inquiry we wanted in the first place.

Of course we all hate Rupert Murdoch, and have hated any arse-licking politician who has ever spoken to him like Brown or Blair or Cameron --although we hated Kinnock and Brown when Murdoch's empire told us to.

Yes, hate works. Let's not forget, either, that for years it was hate that made the News of the World go round.

Every week you can buy a copy of said newspaper which provides you with detailed instructions on who to hate and why and how much. Hate is the very essence upon which a publication such as the News of the World thrives: how to hate MPs because they are only in it for the money, how to hate celebrities because they are successful, how to hate your neighbours because they probably have more sex than you.

The News of the World has taught us to be creatures in its own image.

But shouldn't we resist this barrage of hate?

How about compassion instead? We should feel compassion for those 7/7 victims whose phones were hacked; compassion for the Dowler family who have been through so much. Admiration and compassion for the family of Joanna Yeates and her boyfriend who, in their moment of tragedy, squared up to the tabloid media and stopped the hate campaign against wrongly accused Christopher Jeffries. Their compassion in a moment of anguish should be our model.

We should feel admiration for Hugh Grant, whose eloquent arguments in debate with Paul McMullan, former features editor at News of the World, on BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday are a shining example to those of us who care about the future of media.

We should feel admiration, too, for the Guardian journalists who broke the story in the first place.

Of course, there are no excuses for the behaviour of the News of the World and other tabloids in the past. But surely we should pause for thought before simply replicating the same sort of feeding frenzy in reverse. Certainly, the truth must be outed -- but let's do it calmy, and show due consideration and respect to those victims who have been trampled underfoot and who might not wish to have the whole painful mess dragged up again.

Jonathan Powell writes in the New Machiavelli that governments tend to quickly launch inquiries in order to sate a public outcry, only to find that such inquiries eat up resource and rarely pleases anyone at the end -- the Bloody Sunday inquiry being a rare exception.

So let's show the media how it should be done: cool, calm, factual. But not hate -- definitely not hate. Hate will turn us into a nation that reads drivel like the News of the World and believes that this dreadful mess can be solved with a quick inquiry.

Rex Features
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Keir Starmer: “I don’t think anybody should underestimate the risks of getting Brexit wrong”

The former director of public prosecutions is now heading up Labour’s response to Brexit. But can he succeed in holding the Tories’ feet to the fire?

Early in his new role as shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer was accused of being a “second-rate lawyer”. The gibe, in a Commons debate, came from none other than Iain Duncan Smith. Starmer was director of public prosecutions for five years and later stood for parliament in 2015. No novice, then. Within a few days, Duncan Smith stood again in the House, this time to offer his apologies.

A fortnight later, I met Starmer at his quiet office in Westminster. He was sitting at a table piled with papers, in an office that, a discreet family photo aside, was unadorned. He had just got back from a whirlwind trip to Brussels, with many more such visits planned in the weeks ahead.

Starmer returned to the shadow cabinet after Jeremy Corbyn’s second leadership election victory last month. “The series of agreements we will have to reach in the next few years is probably the most important and complex we’ve had to reach since the Second World War,” he told me.

Starmer, who is 54, took his time entering politics. Born in 1962, he grew up in a Labour-supporting household in Surrey – his father was a toolmaker and his mother a nurse – and was named after Keir Hardie. After studying law at Leeds University, he practised as a human rights barrister and became a QC in 2002. In 2008, after varied legal work that included defending environmental campaigners in the McLibel case, he became the head of the Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales as well as director of public prosecutions, positions he held until 2013.

When in 2015 Starmer ran for a seat in parliament to represent Holborn and St Pancras in London, it was assumed he would soon be putting his expertise to use in government. Instead, after Labour’s election defeat under Ed Miliband, he served as one of Corbyn’s junior shadow ministers, but resigned after the EU referendum in June.

Now, he is back on the opposition front bench and his forensic scrutiny of government policy is already unsettling the Conservatives. Philippe Sands, the law professor who worked with him on Croatia’s genocide lawsuit against Serbia, says he couldn’t think of anyone better to take on the Brexiteers in parliament. “It’s apparent that the government is rather scared of him,” Sands said. This is because Starmer is much more capable of teasing out the legal consequences of Brexit than the average Brexit-supporting Tory MP. Sands added: “It would be fun to watch if the stakes weren’t so very high.”

Starmer is a serious man and refused to be drawn on the character of his opponents. Instead, speaking slowly, as if weighing every word, he spelled out to me the damage they could cause. “The worst scenario is the government being unable to reach any meaningful agreement with the EU and [the UK] crashing out in March 2019 on no terms, with no transitional arrangement.” The result could be an economic downturn and job losses: “I don’t think anybody should underestimate the risks of getting this wrong.”

If Starmer seems pessimistic, it is because he believes time is short and progress has been slow. Since the referendum, disgruntled MPs have focused their attention on the final Brexit settlement. Yet if, as he argues, the starting position for our negotiations with the EU is wrong, the damage will have been done. MPs faced with a bad deal must either approve it or “risk the UK exiting the EU without a deal at all”.

It is this conviction that is driving his frantic schedule now. Starmer’s first month in the job is packed with meetings - with the representatives of the devolved nations, business leaders and his European counterparts.

He has also become a familiar face at the dispatch box. Having secured a commitment from David Davis, the minister for Brexit, that there will be transparent debate – “the words matter” – he is now demanding that plans to be published in January 2017 at the earliest, and that MPs will have a vote at this stage.

In his eyes, it will be hard for the Prime Minister, Theresa May, to resist, because devolved parliaments and the European parliament will almost certainly be having a say: “The idea there will be a vote in the devolved administrations but not in Westminster only needs to be stated to see it’s unacceptable.”

In Europe, Starmer said, the view is already that Britain is heading for the cliff edge. It was May’s pledge, that after Brexit the UK would not “return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice”, which raised alarm. And among voters, there is “increasing anxiety” about the direction in which the UK is moving, he said. Even Tory voters are writing to him.

In the Labour Party, which is putting itself back together again after the summer’s failed coup, immigration remains the most vexed issue. Starmer told me that Labour had “earned a reputation for not listening” on the issue. Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show shortly after becoming shadow Brexit secretary, he said immigration was too high and ought to be reduced. But later that same day, Diane Abbott, a shadow cabinet colleague, contradicted him, publicly criticising immigration targets.

Starmer believes there is a bigger picture to consider when it comes to Britain’s Brexit negotiations. Take national security, where he warns that there are “significant risks” if communications break down between the UK and the EU. “Part of the negotiations must be ensuring we have the same level of co-operation on criminal justice, counterterrorism, data-sharing,” he said.

Crucially, in a Labour Party where many experienced politicians are backbench dissenters, he wants to reach out to MPs outside the shadow cabinet. “We have to work as Team Labour,” he stressed.

It’s a convincing rallying cry. But for some MPs, he represents more than that: a lone moderate in what can be seen as a far-left leadership cabal. Does he have any ambitions to lead Labour? “Having had two leadership elections in the space of 12 months, the last thing we need at the moment is discussion of the leadership of the Labour Party.” He has agreed to serve in the shadow cabinet, and is determined to stay there.

Starmer has found his purpose in opposition. “If we think things aren’t going right, we’ve got to call it out early and loudly. The worst situation is that we arrive at March 2019 with the wrong outcome. By then, it will be too late.”

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

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage