Marr’s hypocrisy is exposed

The BBC presenter probed into Gordon Brown’s private life while concealing his own.

Andrew Marr today admitted what anyone with access to an internet connection has known for years: that he obtained a superinjunction in 2008 to prevent the press reporting on his extramarital affair. Yet until 2009, when Private Eye launched a successful challenge, the mainstream media were banned from revealing even the existence of the injunction.

As the Eye reported at the time:

So it was last year when Andrew Marr won an injunction to stop the media revealing "private information" about him – and to stop them revealing that he'd stopped them. Marr himself was on record arguing against a judge-made privacy law and calling for a public debate on the subject. Any such debate should include some reference to the effect of superinjunctions; yet Marr's, like many others these days, was so draconian that one couldn't mention its existence. Nor were we allowed to know on what grounds it had been given. After a long struggle by Lord Gnome's lawyers, the order was varied so that we could at least say that he'd obtained it, while not repeating the story he wished to suppress.

The only reason Marr has now gone public in the Daily Mail (thus placating one of his fiercest critics) is to head off a challenge by Private Eye to the ordinary injunction. Unsurprisingly, the Eye editor, Ian Hislop, didn't pull his punches on this morning's Today programme, attacking the injunction as "pretty rank" and "hypocritical".

Hislop was referring to the BBC presenter's apparent opposition to judge-made privacy law. But, as Stephen Tall argues, Marr's greatest offence was his decision to give voice to internet smears and ask Gordon Brown whether he was using "prescription painkillers and pills". Marr's attempt to probe into Brown's private life, while using the courts to protect his own, was neither morally nor professionally acceptable.

He may now argue, conveniently enough, that superinjunctions are "out of control". The question remains, however: if an exception is made for one, why not an exception for all?

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.