There’s something about Harry

As Redknapp is cleared of tax evasion, he still captures hearts.

In no way will this view be popular: I adore Harry Redknapp. I adore Harry Redknapp to a degree that is unreasonable for a semi-enthusiastic football fan whose object of adoration is a chinless football manager who has not only been in court (and cleared) for "cheating the public revenue" but has also starred in ads for the Nintendo Wii. ("What happened there?" wonders a bemused Harry as young Jamie, his perennially injured son, thrashes him at Super Mario).

Let's deal with the trial first. I don't know if you saw the court artist's impression of Harry in the dock but it's worth a look. On the left is his co-defendant, the former Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric, whose head is oddly tilted as though he's about to keel over in shame. And then there, in the foreground, is Harry, standing stiff-backed like a soldier, sombre and ruddy-faced, a pair of half-moon specs perched on his nose. No offence to the artist, but this looks absolutely nothing like Harry. At least, not the one I know and love. Where's the Harry of the touchline, gabby and cross? Or the cheeky pundit version? They didn't even call him Harry in court, but Henry, his "real" name, unrecognisable to his fans.

Still, the real Harry creeps out in beautiful detail: such as the revelation by the prosecution that he had allegedly set up a bank account in Monaco under the name of his dog and the year of his birth, Rosie 47. (As someone tweeted mournfully: "Nothing grounds your sense of personal achievement like knowing you'll never have more in your bank account than Harry Redknapp's dog."). Then there's the recording of a conversation with a journalist: "What's a bung? It's a f****** sick word." Once the swearing starts, you know you've got the true Harry. This is a man who when cut to early for a Sky News interview managed to pack in a cascade of F-words before the reporter could gather his wits to start the interview, and when accused of being a "wheeler and dealer" by another reporter, retorted: "I'm not a wheeler and dealer. Don't say that. I'm a f****** football manager."

If you're not already a Harry fan, my affection for this potty-mouthed huckster might seem odd. I'll admit: it's not obvious. But this is a man of passion, who as a kid played 20-a-side in the streets of Poplar until long after dark, who would have been a docker like his dad if he hadn't been spotted by football scouts, who in 2008 was given the "freedom of Portsmouth" after the club won the FA Cup, who has pushed a doggedly mediocre team like Tottenham to the near-top of the league. This is a man who has turned swearing into an art form.

Offside with Rosie

I'm not alone in my admiration. Apart from a legion of Spurs fans, there's a growing fascination with Harry. There's even a biography in the works, by John Crace: "Who is Harry Redknapp?" he asks. "Football genius or football chancer? Master tactician or practical joker? How can one man have two such diametrically opposed and incompatible career trajectories?" Well, quite.

This is why I like Harry: at the end of his first day in the dock, he left Court Six to chat to the gathered football reporters. One brought up Rosie, the dog. Harry's response? "Poor old Rosie. She's dead now."

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 30 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, President Newt

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Does it matter that Westminster journalists have a WhatsApp group?

Well yes, a little.

“#WESTMINSTERBUBBLE JOURNOS CHAT ON #WHATSAPP. NOW THAT’S INTERESTING,” writes the alt-left site Skwawkbox.

Its story refers to the fact that Westminster journalists have a WhatsApp group chat. The site finds this sinister, suggesting the chat could be used to “swap info, co-ordinate stories and narratives”:

“It’s a technology that worries Home Secretary Amber Rudd, in case terrorists use it – but its use by the Establishment for 1984-style message co-ordination would worry many people just as much.”

Skwawkbox’s shock was mocked by lobby journalists and spinners:


Your mole, who has sniffed around the lobby in its day, also finds the suggestion of journalists using the app for terrorist-style collusion a little hard to swallow. Like every other industry, journos are using WhatsApp because it’s the latest easy technology to have group chats on – and it’s less risky than bitching and whining in a Twitter DM thread, or on email, which your employers can access.

But my fellow moles in the Skwawkbox burrow have hit on something, even if they’ve hyped it up with the language of conspiracy. There is a problem with the way lobby journalists of different publications decide what the top lines of stories are every day, having been to the same briefings, and had the same chats.

It’s not that there’s a secret shady agreement to take a particular line about a certain party or individual – it’s that working together in such an environment fosters groupthink. They ask questions of government and opposition spokespeople as a group, they dismiss their responses as a group, and they decide the real story as a group.

As your mole’s former colleague Rafael Behr wrote in 2012:

“At the end [of a briefing], the assembled hacks feel they have established some underlying truth about what really happened, which, in the arch idiom of the trade, is generally agreed to have been revealed in what wasn’t said.”

Plus, filing a different story to what all your fellow reporters at rival papers have written could get you in trouble with your editor. The columnist David Aaronovitch wrote a piece in 2002, entitled “The lobby system poisons political journalism”, arguing that rather than pursuing new stories, often this ends up with lobby journalists repeating the same line:

“They display a "rush to story", in which they create between them an orthodoxy about a story – which then becomes impossible to dislodge.”

This tendency for stories to become stifled even led to the Independent and others boycotting the lobby in the Eighties, he notes.

Of course, colleagues in all industries have always communicated for work, social and organisational reasons in some way, and using WhatsApp is no different. But while Skwawkbox’s “revelation” might seem laughable to insiders, most people don’t know how political journalism works behind-the-scenes. It touches on a truth about how Westminster journalists operate – even if it’s wrong about their motive.

I'm a mole, innit.