The Sunday Times’s change of heart, Abu Qatada and English food
The Sunday Times is anxious to remind readers of its role in bringing about the resignation of the environment secretary Chris Huhne. In its latest issue, it mentions four times how it was first to print the allegation that Huhne avoided a driving ban by persuading his then wife, the economist Vicky Pryce, to accept points for a speeding offence. The deputy editor, Martin Ivens, quoted the story in his weekly column as an example of "how newspapers play an essential role in holding the mighty to account".
However, the Sunday Times, even in a long narrative of the Huhne affair, did not recall the aftermath of its disclosure. It was asked by the Crown Prosecution Service and Essex Police - on whose patch the offence took place - to hand over confidential emails between Pryce and a senior journalist. Initially it refused and, when a court demanded that the emails be released, it sought judicial review. In January, however, the paper dropped its challenge and agreed to obey the mighty. The lawyer for the police and the CPS said it would "now be possible to move the proceedings on towards a charging decision". A fortnight later, Huhne and Pryce were both charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
No explanation has been given for the paper's change of mind, and it has occasioned surprisingly little comment.
Newspapers usually fight to the last ditch to protect their sources, and in some instances journalists have gone to jail rather than reveal them. Was the Sunday Times's decision in the Huhne case perhaps influenced by the little difficulties with the law that have recently beset other Murdoch papers?
“Huhne pays for his infidelity," was the Daily Mail's gleeful headline over its morning-after report of the minister's departure. Funny, but I thought Huhne was charged with breaking the secular laws of the land, not the moral laws laid down by Ayatollah Paul Dacre, the Mail's self-styled "editor".
In evidence to the Leveson inquiry, the Ayatollah helpfully read out an extract from a holy text elaborating those laws: an article by Tim Luckhurst in, as it happens, the Daily Mail. "The notion that moral failures such as adultery are entirely private," wrote Luckhurst, ". . . is an affront to the very idea of community . . . We reserve the right to scrutinise and censure the conduct of people who have grown rich on our wages or claim authority over our lives." He added that "public disapproval of infidelity" is "plainly beneficial to social order" because "broken relationships" lead to crime, antisocial behaviour and school failure.
This is all very helpful but perhaps Luckhurst, who is a journalism professor, or the Ayatollah himself could detail the precise levels of riches that may leave one open to “censure".
A million in the bank? A second home abroad? And what levels of authority? Chief executive of the National Lottery Commission? Town clerk? Parking attendant?
Trial and error
Abu Qatada is not to be deported to Jordan to face charges of alleged terrorist offences, thanks to a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights. But here in Britain he has been locked up without trial for nine years in total (equivalent, as his lawyer pointed out, to an 18-year prison sentence) and when he is released on bail he faces a 22-hour curfew that amounts to house arrest.
Is this not, to use the words of the human rights court, itself "a flagrant denial of justice" to a man who has never been convicted under the laws of Britain or any other western country?
If he is as deeply involved in terrorist conspiracies as the intelligence services claim, why can he not be charged here or (after extradition) in another western country so that evidence that has not been obtained by torture can be presented in open court?
A cabinet minister charged with a criminal offence leaves office but Fabio Capello, the England football manager, is surely right to argue - contrary to the FA - that the former England captain John Terry, charged with racial abuse, should remain in post. Cabinet ministers make regulations and put laws before parliament, and even captaining a cricket team involves decisions about bowling changes, field positions, lbw reviews and so on. In football, however, all on-field decisions are made by managers and shouted or gesticulated from the touchline. Apart from tossing a coin, the captain's only role is to hold up a trophy if the team happens to win one, and there's not much danger of that in England's case.
Only the media's overheated interest in the game makes the captaincy of such importance that anybody thinks it should be treated as though it were a great office of state.
Better pill to swallow
Predictions of what the future holds are nearly always wrong, revealing only the priorities and aspirations of the era in which they were made. So it was with the Sunday Times's predictions in 1962, recalled in its magazine's 50th-anniversary issue. They included "the dinner pill", which would allow us to swallow all our nutrients in an instant.
This tells you everything you need to know about British cuisine in the early 1960s. Eating was never a pleasure, merely a chore to be completed, like refuelling the car, as speedily as possible. A dinner pill would have been seen as a blessed relief from overdone Brussels sprouts, tinned salmon and mouldy Cheddar. That we now regard a meal in Britain as something to look forward to (usually) and savour (sometimes) is one of the greatest improvements of my lifetime.
Next week: Helen Lewis