Monday, July 18, 2011

The Register of Members’ Media Meetings

The Prime Minister announced last week that he plans to introduce a system which will oblige ministers to declare all correspondence and every meeting and telephone conversation they have with with proprietors, editors and senior media executives. He didn't quite use those words, but that is the clear inference.

During the debate on Phone Hacking, which followed Prime Minister’s Questions, he said:
As we discussed a few moments ago, if we are calling for greater transparency from the police, I think it is only right that we provide it in Government, too. After all, as I have said, one of the reasons why we got into this situation is because, over the decades, politicians and the press have spent time courting support, not confronting the problems. So I will be consulting the Cabinet Secretary on an amendment to the ministerial code to require Ministers to record all meetings with newspaper and other media proprietors, senior editors and executives, regardless of the nature of the meeting. Permanent secretaries and special advisers will also be required to record such meetings. This information should be published quarterly. It is a first for our country, and alongside the other steps we are taking, will help to make the UK Government one of the most transparent in the world. I will also be discussing this with the Opposition, and perhaps we can adopt it on a cross-party basis.
The relevant exchange during PMQs:
Q10. [65530] Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Can the Prime Minister assure the House that all illegal press activity under the last Government will be investigated now, and that that will include the criminal conspiracy between the highest levels in that last Government and parts of the Murdoch empire, including the blagging of bank accounts of Lord Ashcroft in a bid to undermine him and his position as laid out in “Dirty politics, Dirty times”?

The Prime Minister: The point about the inquiry that we are shortly going to discuss is that it will look at the relationship between politicians and media groups, across the whole issue of that relationship including as it relates to media policy. I think that is extremely important. The inquiry will have the ability to call politicians—serving politicians and previous Prime Ministers—to get to the bottom of what happened and how unhealthy the relationship was. That is what needs to happen.
But it is to be noted that there is a slight inconsistency between these two statements: one refers to an imminent obligation upon ministers, permanent secretaries and special advisers; the other refers to politicians in general. Indeed, the Prime Minister later said:
Lord Justice Leveson, assisted by a panel of senior independent figures with relevant expertise in media, broadcasting, regulation and government will inquire into the culture, practices and ethics of the press; its relationship with the police; the failure of the current system of regulation; the contacts made, and discussions had, between national newspapers and politicians...
If one is to make the UK Government ‘one of the most transparent in the world’, such meetings should not only be declared, but the matters discussed made public. And if this emerging Register of Members’ Media Meetings is to be of any use at all, it must also apply to the Opposition.

Yet, if it were to do so, it would no longer simply form part of the ministerial code, since the Opposition frontbench are not ministers. And if the new regulation is also to apply to permanent secretaries and special advisers, we really are talking about a register which would be more far-reaching than that devised to record members’ interests. Indeed, knowing how capricious the world of politics is, and knowing how quickly MPs may lose or win, rise or fall, be in and then out, the proposed register must apply to all MPs. For why should an obscure and unknown member have a meeting with a prominent editor last week, during which certain assurances were made and terms agreed, only to find himself or herself a minister the following week, still bound by those assurances and terms previously agreed?

And, further, why should this apply only to ‘proprietors, editors and senior media executives’, when the corruption at hand appears to have been effected by reporters and journalists?

Further still, how is one actually to define ‘proprietors, editors and senior media executives’? It is noteworthy that the Prime Minister has already released details of all his meetings over the past year, and these naturally include prominent newspaper and magazine editors and proprietors. But the list also includes Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome. Now this gets interesting. Is Tim Montogomerie a media chief executive? That must make Lord Ashcroft a proprietor. Is Guido Fawkes both proprietor and chief executive? Is His Grace?

If MPs are about to be obliged to declare all conversations and contact with the Blogosphere, there can be no more of Guido's parliamentary co-conspirators, no more helpful tip-offs by unnamed sources, and no more anonymous briefings by those who are 'close' to so-and-so.

And yet this register cannot exempt the blogs, not least because some are vastly more influential and far more widely read than some national newspapers and magazines. But why specify ‘national newspapers’ when things can get awfully cosy between an MP and his local press? And are not many of those local newspapers (240 to be precise) owned by the Mirror Group? And which newspaper group is actually top of the league table when it comes to illicit activity?

If one is to initiate root and branch reform of the relationship between politicians and the press, it must include all politicians, from the lowliest MP to the Prime Minister, and all employees of the media, from the lowliest reporter to the most powerful proprietor. If we focus only on the ministers, editors and media baron organ grinders, it won’t be too long before the monkeys move in to and collaborate and collude vicariously.

Another interesting stipulation is the compulsion upon politicians to declare contact ‘regardless of the nature of the meeting’. Does the meeting have to be face to face? In an age of video-conferencing and Skype, surely not. Does email correspondence constitute a meeting? Does a telephone conversation? Twitter? Gossip? If so, we can expect an awful lot of time and effort devoted to this sort of thing.

His Grace wasn’t sure how any of this would or could work in practice, so he consulted the friendly Labour MP Tom Harris. Back came the defiant response that he would continue to meet whomsoever he wish whenever he wished (especially if they were paying).


And so hundreds of hours of parliamentary time are consumed; thousands of tons of hot air are released; and millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is dedicated to the formation of a Register of Members’ Media Meetings, to run alongside of the Register of Members’ Interests, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

And absolutely nothing changes.

41 Comments:

Blogger E.xtra S.ensory Blofeld + Tiddles said...

"Yet, if it were to do so, it would no longer simply form part of the ministerial code, since the Opposition frontbench are not ministers." So blatantly obvious even Ernst's grandson could spot it. Brilliantly pointed out, Your Grace.

"t is noteworthy that the Prime Minister has already released details of all his meetings over the past year, and these naturally include prominent newspaper and magazine editors and proprietors. But the list also includes Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome. Now this gets interesting. Is Tim Montogomerie a media chief executive? That must make Lord Ashcroft a proprietor. Is Guido Fawkes both proprietor and chief executive? Is His Grace?"

Ernst looks forward to seeking your Urn in front of the Select committee giving evidence.

Have they nothing better to do with their time and OUR MONEY?

Economy anyone.

E S Blofeld

18 July 2011 at 11:56  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace

‘And absolutely nothing changes.’

The Government has placed on the statute book the European Union Act.

And absolutely nothing changes.

We, the people, are changing.

We have had enough.

18 July 2011 at 12:18  
Blogger E.xtra S.ensory Blofeld + Tiddles said...

God Lord.

Listening to miliband the younger on BBC 24. Well it looks like Brown's diatribe last week has forced Thoroughly Modern Milly to think maybe Blair's tao is better?

It's like listening to Blair prior to 1997..double take.

And they wonder why we despise these chancers infesting our parliament. 'Not me guv'.
Can nobody ever take responsibility at that house of ill-repute.

Ughh.

Ernst

18 July 2011 at 12:23  
Blogger English Pensioner said...

For once I find myself agreeing with a Labour MP! The idea is totally Bonkres!
Record every meeting! What is a meeting? Is it a meeting if you bump into someone in the street and exchange a few polite words as you pass? There are lots of journalists around the House of Commons, is a polite "Good Morning" to one that you recognise to be considered to be a meeting?
So now we will need another committee to define a meeting, the possibilities are endless. Meanwhile, far more important things are happening in the world and being ignored - perhaps that is the whole idea.

18 July 2011 at 12:40  
Blogger Dodo the Dude said...

We want an independent press, constrained by the law, but not one that cannot protet it sources, including MP's and Ministers.

Record all meetings contacts and indeed! Where would we be without leaks to the press?

18 July 2011 at 12:50  
Anonymous bluedog said...

If, as predicted by ES Blofeld, Your Grace's blog continues to rise inexorably up the rankings, there will come a time when the author is deemed to have 'Power'. At which point an inexperienced politician may declare that 'Something must be done', in the manner of the late Prince of Wales.

All of which raises further points; how do you define and quantify political Power? Milipede says Rupert has too much Power. How does Milipede calculate this excess? When will His Grace be similarly stigmatised? Its all rather more subjective than 'transparent'.

And what of lobbyists? Where will they fit in to the new disclosure regime? Dave's sudden attack of Puritanism promises to take all the fun out of politics. Gossip, rumour and conspiracy may never be the same again.

18 July 2011 at 12:56  
Anonymous MrJ said...

Nails on heads for another plank of the exit casket.

‘one of the most transparent in the world’

Shamelessly empty phrase-making. Not sure whether Mr Cameron has yet excelled Mr Blair, or still trying to catch up.

Hare and tortoise, or hare and heir to hare?

But Mr Cameron's time in office is drawing to a close long before completing as many laps as Hare got round until the beagles chased him off.

18 July 2011 at 13:02  
Blogger E.xtra S.ensory Blofeld + Tiddles said...

MrJ wisely said 18 July 2011 13:02.

"But Mr Cameron's time in office is drawing to a close long before completing as many laps as Hare got round until the beagles chased him off."

My boy, Ernst dreads the calamity all this will cause..Another damned election with more broken promises on offer.
Will our suffering as a nation never cease.

I agree with MrJ. (see, it's still stuck in my head from last year.lol.

Ernst, young man.

18 July 2011 at 13:39  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Funny ! It would be more useful if the public knew how many Lobbyists the BBC employs at Westminster.

How often MPs and Ministers are wined/dined by PR firms employed by Media ?

The use of Fishburn Hedges PR firm by BBC for example.

There is so much corruption that simply listing media contacts for a few weeks is pathetic.....when Keble chum Minister meets BBC chum from Oriel for Sunday coffee it is hardly a media event, more a reunion

18 July 2011 at 13:40  
Blogger john in cheshire said...

YG, if there is to be a register of meetings with the media, I trust this will specifically include the bbc; the bbc has a more malignant influence on public life than News International has ever had or ever will have. And until the bbc is privatised or better still totally destroyed, someone needs to be keeping a very close eye on its inhabitants.

18 July 2011 at 13:48  
Blogger Dodo the Dude said...

john in cheshire said...
" ... the bbc has a more malignant influence on public life than News International has ever had or ever will have."

Rolling about on the floor laughting.

Mr J said ...
"But Mr Cameron's time in office is drawing to a close ..."

You wish! And who would you repalce him with - little Eddie?

18 July 2011 at 13:56  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

The police only gave up beating confessions out of the innocent when recording equipment was installed in police stations. How much surveillance would it take to force our politicians to behave with a modicum of decency? As the state eavesdrops on all our electronic communications, the representatives of the state can hardly object to being monitored themselves.

18 July 2011 at 14:00  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace

I wonder if Dr Liam Fox will replace Cameron?

18 July 2011 at 14:03  
Blogger E.xtra S.ensory Blofeld + Tiddles said...

Mr Singh said

"I wonder if Dr Liam Fox will replace Cameron?"

Can we not find some way to install Frank Field in his place, the only politician I know who consistantly said the same in opposition prior to 1997, again in power from 1997 until Mad McBroon shafted him and the same out of power. We can but dream for an honest leader.

Ernst.

18 July 2011 at 14:16  
Blogger English Viking said...

I hope Camoron is up to his neck in it, and this grubby episode brings an end to the tosser's 'career' and government.

18 July 2011 at 14:25  
Blogger English Viking said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

18 July 2011 at 14:26  
Blogger English Viking said...

PS Forgot to say that Tom Harris is an utter nob.

Surprise, surprise, I'm banned from his blog.

18 July 2011 at 14:27  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Blofeld

You're old friend 'Agent Field' from the socialist bloc?

Yates of the Yard has just resigned.

All around Cameron's shoulders lightining is striking.

18 July 2011 at 14:41  
Blogger Dodo the Dude said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

18 July 2011 at 14:50  
Blogger E.xtra S.ensory Blofeld + Tiddles said...

D Singh said

'You're old friend 'Agent Field' from the socialist bloc?"

Don't know of others that gave Maggie her due from socialist bloc DURING her time in power and near her demise from treachery within her own party (Blair said kind words after) and as Maggie cannot be recalled, is Liam really the only man for the task.

Ernst, my boy.

18 July 2011 at 14:53  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Blofeld

I can't think of anyone else except - Fox.

Although I would like to see Carswell as PM.

18 July 2011 at 15:20  
Blogger Dodo the Dude said...

English Viking said...
"PS Forgot to say that Tom Harris is an utter nob.
Surprise, surprise, I'm banned from his blog."

oxy-Moron
Never! A man like you who makes such errudite, considered and balanced contributions,(as above)banned! I am surprised! What's the world coming to?

18 July 2011 at 15:23  
Anonymous MrJ said...

How odd of Dod
To thread for Ed

It is time for the Queen to be advised to appoint Abp Cranmer (presiding genius of this place), of manifest sagacity, to form a caretaker cabinet, until the restoration of this country's Parliamentary sovereignty and the return to Parliament of fit and proper persons to legislate and call the government of the day to account.

18 July 2011 at 15:40  
Anonymous MrJ said...

When the Queen allows the loyal Mr Cameron to resign for the good of the country, we may ask whether that will be "with integrity intact" irrespective of any indictments that may be in the offing, or merely to spend more time with his family?

18 July 2011 at 16:39  
Blogger Marie1797 said...

It's like an episode from “Yes Minister”! Of course there will be the official recordings of meetings which will be an enormous waste of tax payers money with a load of waffle and hardly any content. The real deals will still go on in the unofficial meetings. Cameron is a dope if he thinks this is the answer.

I note as we move away from Christian teachings and in general a Christina society, accountability and integrity is in decline and corruption from all areas - Government, media, police, corporate is more than it ever was and is on the increase. WE are heading for third world status if we're not careful. Of course the EU wants this a Broken and corrupt Britain so we can be ever more dependent.

Cameron has to realise that nowadays sophisticated bugging equipment is freely available for anyone to purchase and will be used. There has to be some ethical laws to prohibit the use of such equipment or the information gleaned this way in relation to victims of crime, accidents, and other vulnerable people. There is of course much counter surveillance equipment also available and experts who sweep your house and phone lines for you. Anyone thinks they have a problem take a little trip down to Lorraine Electronics Lea Bridge Rd London.

18 July 2011 at 16:39  
Blogger Dodo the Dude said...

MrJ said...
"How odd of Dod
To thread for Ed"

You think? My comment:

"And who would you replace him (Cameron) with - little Eddie?"

Now we know you are wilfully mischievious and take pleasure from misrepresenting others. You must have a Public School background.

Bearing false witness - naughty, naughty, little soldier.

18 July 2011 at 17:08  
Blogger Graham Davis said...

Simple solution: All MP’s whether ministers or not publish their diaries for the previous week and these are then uploaded immediately to a website. This wouldn’t require very much detail, only who they met, where and for how long and the purpose/subject of their discussion. This would cover virtual as well as physical meetings. This would prompt MPs to consider (before the event) whether or not this meeting might raise questions.

18 July 2011 at 17:15  
Anonymous MrJ said...

~~~MrJ said... And yet more of the same self-parody from a flightless one (17:08).

18 July 2011 at 17:23  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Oh Graham Davis you are so naive, so marvellously innocent that it makes it hard to believe you live in this big bad world created for adults....

18 July 2011 at 17:36  
Blogger Bred in the bone said...

They will have to raise taxes to pay for this lot of nothing.

Its a good job they are fastracking the prison service more into a private sector industry. Anything to make a bob or two eh.

Commercial fascist bastards.

Waissail

18 July 2011 at 18:15  
Blogger E.xtra S.ensory Blofeld + Tiddles said...

Your Grace tweets

"Reputations damaged - fine. Resignations - fine. Careers ended - fine. But this scandal is not worth anyone's life"

Agreed but maybe this is only the tip of an iceberg..If media has been like this with the police getting their own way etc, could it not have been reciprocated by police for politicians etc..could this lead to us discovering that the corruption leads to our judicial system also being influenced to get the 'verdicts' required.

Maybe a clean out is good for the soul, as we are in dire need of it.

E S Blofeld

18 July 2011 at 18:38  
Blogger E.xtra S.ensory Blofeld + Tiddles said...

ps

Nemo me impune lacessit.

It is all a house of cards waiting to be pulled down as each blames each and secrets come out.

Brace yourself Sheila, it's going ta be a rough ride this week..

Ernst S Blofeld

18 July 2011 at 18:54  
Blogger Dodo the Dude said...

Mr J

Raw nerve? Didn't quite make it at Oxbridge, eh?

18 July 2011 at 19:26  
Anonymous Voyager said...

They will have to raise taxes to pay for this lot of nothing.

The Basic Rate of Tax was 35% in the 1970s.....since it went down Credit has exploded......

18 July 2011 at 19:45  
Blogger Graham Davis said...

Voyager @ 18 July 2011 17:36

How nice of you to say so.

18 July 2011 at 20:22  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Voyager: "The Basic Rate of Tax was 35% in the 1970s.....since it went down Credit has exploded......"
I think that is correlation - not causation. Credit exploding has more to do with interest rates and availability of money, hasn't it?

18 July 2011 at 20:24  
Anonymous Oswin said...

Recording EVERYTHING is absurd and unnecessary. What IS required is the constant vigilance of some hard-nosed appointed body, with recourse to swift and decided punishment. As should be the case throughout the whole of our so-called Justice system.

18 July 2011 at 20:49  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Credit exploding has more to do with interest rates and availability of money, hasn't it?

Actually it has much to do with Competition & Credit Control 1971 and the removal of the Corset and Special Deposit Scheme under M Thatcher.

The lax monetary policy of E Heath pushed base rates into double-digits for the very first time.

The use of Overfunding the Gilts Market expanded the monetary base of the banking system under Lawson

High tax rates were a throttle on Consumption under previous governments designed to push production towards exports not consumption after 1967

18 July 2011 at 20:52  
Blogger Span Ows said...

Dodo the Dude, can you tell us which bit of john in cheshire's comment had you "Rolling about on the floor laughting"? We'll forgive the typo 't' but not forgve the writing in full of ROFL.

Let's remind ourselves: "the bbc has a more malignant influence on public life than News International has ever had or ever will have."

I think that is a fair statement except for the reading the future bit i.e. "or ever will be". Now, was this what you were ROFL about? If not could you please elaborate. Ta.

18 July 2011 at 21:47  
Blogger Dodo the Dude said...

Span Owls

All of it!

18 July 2011 at 23:09  
Anonymous Rereke Whakaaro said...

What a waste of time.

If you follow the money (as I have been doing) you find that there are a number of characters who act as a "cut-out" between the media and other groups.

Ex-coppers, working as "consultants", "advisors" or "private investigators", who have friends in the press, and who also have a few drinking mates still in the force.

Press officers in Parliament are mostly ex-media people (Andy Coulson, being one). They also perform the function of receiving information from the media, in return for sharing gossip from inside the caucus.

Just keeping a log of "significant" meetings will do nothing to stop the rot.

19 July 2011 at 04:05  

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