Mrs Miller rode the seas like a tugboat going about its business
22:52 GMT, 3 December 2012
Harriet Harman, ripened by years of feminist displeasure at topless jubblies in the red-tops, rose to speak in the Leveson debate. Her moment had finally come. She was a magnolia grandiflora whose rare petals were about to part, or one of those Aussie outback plants that shoot but once in a decade.
Lawyer Harriet was a few words in to her great oration – rising faster than one of the Montgolfier Brothers’ balloons, buoyant with indignation, zooming toward her own private heaven – when word went round the press gallery about the Duchess of Cambridge’s wonderful news.
‘Kate’s pregnant!’ went the whisper. Political reporters politely clicked off their ballpoints, closed their notebooks and made a dignified retreat, like part-time firemen leaving a party to go and attend to a blaze.
Overlooked: Harriet Harman was upstaged by Kate Middleton's news today as she rose to speak in the Leveson debate
‘No point filing any of this Leveson stuff, old bean – not now.’
Poor Harriet. How maddening to be upstaged. And by a sister from the Royal Family!
Although those who spoke yesterday claimed that Leveson was a matter of great interest, and though we imperilled inkies (threatened with having to justify our adjectives before some tribunal of parliamentary chinstrokers) might agree, the Commons was far from full, particularly after the Kate news broke. Maybe MPs had sloped off to look at the hated media to read all about it.
Maria Miller, Culture Secretary, opened the debate and did well to keep going amid many interventions. Mrs Miller rode the seas like a tugboat going about its business.
She refused to say anything too positive about Fleet Street – that would only have sent Labour loopy – but nor was she prepared to say that the state should step in to edit every dot and carry of the pig-price pages.
Some sang hosannas to the judiciary. Sir Edward Garnier (Con, Harborough) was unstinting in his admiration for Beak Brian Leveson. Lawyer purred about lawyer.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller opened the debate and did well to keep going amid many interventions
Sir Edward was knighted after being sacked recently as Solicitor General. Gosh he was patronising. His putdown of free-press-supporting Therese Coffey (Con, Suffolk Coastal) was stupendously rude. A real collector’s item.
Miss Coffey coloured like a slapped bottom. She is a very great lady and were I Sir Edward, I would not rest easy in my breeches. Another of the biggest anti-press tutters was Sir Gerald Howarth (Con, Aldershot), also recently knighted after being sacked as a minister.
I say, if I promise to go quietly, can I, too, have a knighthood I will even undertake to be beastly about journalists, if that is what it takes.
Sir Gerald is a rightwinger, of the authoritarian persuasion. No beacon of tolerance, he! What an odd alliance for him to be in agreement with the likes of Jack Straw (lawyer, Lab, Blackburn) and Chris Bryant (Lab, Rhondda).
Not that Mr Bryant got very far in his early sallies yesterday. He has become a marginal figure in the House on account of his crazed partisanship. One heckler yesterday shouted, ‘declare yer interest!’, for Mr Bryant makes a bob or two from a national newspaper whose owner’s son he happens to know. Edward Miliband was in the House for a while, hogsnorting his agreement with Press critics, getting all antsy when others dissected Leveson and found faults.
Sir Gerald Kaufman spoke of Fleet Street’s excesses as a ‘disease’. But the best speech was perhaps given by Peter Lilley (Con, Hitchin & Harpenden) who said that despite the Press sometimes being ‘vile’ (and he gave a horrid example of that, when newspapers made his life an unjustified misery during the ‘Back to Basics’ fevers of the 1990s), state regulation was not desirable.
The people who ran Levesonian regulation would be ‘the sort of people who run the BBC; a politically correct body imposing politically correct standards’.
Thinking back to the outrageous Press coverage of ‘Back to Basics’, I can’t help recall that it was whipped up by a Labour party whose frothiest enthusiast was one Alastair Campbell, now leading demands for the Press to be curtailed. Odd, huh