Hands off our newspapers, Jim

Hands off our newspapers, Jim

by Mr Eugenides
article from Saturday 23, March, 2013

THE BEAUTIFUL city of Paisley has given us many individuals whose brilliance has illuminated Scottish public life, from the dancing feet of Archie Gemmill to the financial acumen of Fred Goodwin.

When it comes to its elected representatives, however, the long-suffering burghers have been less fortunate. True, they gave us the ethereal Wendy Alexander; as ravishing as Paisley Abbey in the moonlight, her eyes dark as passionate as goblets of ruby Buckfast, and that mouth – the mouth that launched a thousand policy discussions – a mouth that seems to defy the laws of physics, that exists in four or even five dimensions, curving space and time around it into an exquisite event horizon of pure sensuality.

But I digress.

When it comes to Paisley’s Labour representatives, Wendy is very much the exception that proves the rule. Long-time observers of the Scottish blogging scene will already be familiar with Terry Kelly, the Paisley councillor so lamentably dim that he’d struggle to pour water out of a boot if the instructions were on the heel.

Councillor Kelly’s blog is a standing rebuke to the Scottish educational system that produced its author, a rambling mish-mash of anti-SNP sniping, unabashed Castro worship, ritualised abuse of commenters and some remarkably, erm, creative punctuation.

But this week we have also been treated to the asinine musings of Jim Sheridan MP, who broke cover in the aftermath of the shabby cross-party stitch-up on press freedom to call for parliamentary sketch-writers to be chucked out of the Commons.

Speaking out at a meeting of the Culture, Media and Sport committee of which he is, hilariously, a member, our hero showed an almost galactic lack of self-awareness when describing the small coterie of broadsheet hacks who write humorous sketches of Parliamentary proceedings as – and you’ll like this – “parasitic elements”.

“I don’t understand”, continued the fearless Jim, metaphorically blowing his nose into the Magna Carta, “why they are allowed to come into this place and behave in the way they do.”

Now, there are those who might say that these observations – “they don’t participate”, “lack of decency”, “parasitic” – could equally be said to apply to the MPs who we “allow” into the Palace of Westminster day after day to spout shit on our dime; say what you like about Quentin Letts, but at least he didn’t make me pay for his fucking plasma screen.

On the other hand, others will question why I am wasting my time taking potshots at someone who is clearly not much of a moving target since, as headlines go, “Scottish Labour MP revealed to be dumber than a box of hair” is more “Dog Bites Man” than the other way around.

But the truth, unpalatable and humiliating as it is, is that people like Jim Sheridan are important. People like him matter. And in the week that our political leaders made plain their attempt to regulate the press, for the first time in nearly 300 years, their views matter more than ever.

These people, who collectively are as sharp as a sack of wet mice… these fuckers are in charge. And that is why some of us refuse to accept the smooth bromides from the Milibands and Cleggs of this world that there is nothing to fear from state oversight of the Press. That’s why, moreover, we are not fooled by the cunning expedient of governing Fleet Street by “Royal Charter”; our politicians seem to think that if they put lipstick on a pig, we’re all going to buy it dinner and then try to put our hand up its skirt in the taxi home. But we are not fooled, because we have seen such power grabs before.

The particular gaggle of libertarian bloggers to which I used to belong – “bloggertarians”, as we were disparagingly known – had a very simple rule of thumb when it came to the power we were comfortable for our politicians to wield; never hand over the country to be run by people that you wouldn’t trust to perform basic household tasks if you were busy - watching a baby for half an hour, getting the right kind of milk from the shops, running with scissors, that sort of thing. A spectacularly low bar to clear, perhaps, but a bar which most of our politicians could pass only by limboing under it.

Harsh? Perhaps. But would you let Chris Huhne drive your kids to school? Give George Galloway a fiver to get the papers in the morning and expect change?

To ask the question is to answer it. When we entrust someone with the stewardship of the nation whom we wouldn’t trust to feed our cat while we were on holiday, it appears only common sense, it seems to me, that we entrust them with as little as possible.

I don’t generally have a lot of time for the British press, but as Daniel Hannan pointed out this week, if you want to see the chilling effect of privacy laws and state regulation, you only have to look across the Channel at the supine, compliant media of countries like France to see that there are worse things than the status quo.

Sheridan gave the game away in an interview on Radio 4 last week, when Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail made reference to his expenses, among them the aforementioned plasma screen for which the people of Paisley were charged £1000. Spluttering with fury, the MP started blustering about “bullying” that should be “unacceptable in this day and age”. It’s worth repeating this just so that we’re all clear; charging the taxpayer a thousand quid for a telly is acceptable, but mentioning it on the radio is not. 

It is clear what Sheridan’s agenda is, and clear that for many of his fellow members of the Commons – rightly exposed as cheats and thieves after years of press silence – this is their chance for revenge. Well, I say that state control of our press (including this website - Ed.) – however “light touch”, or “hands-off” is what should really be “unacceptable in this day and age”.

I’d rather live with the anarchy of a messy, feral and occasionally lawless press than the dictatorship of oafs and cretins like Jim Sheridan. Paisley can keep him.

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