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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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.