Thursday, September 02, 2010

Blast from the past

It’s always useful to have one’s own prejudices and biases challenged.  Apart from believing (which I definitely do) that the rumours that have been floated around William Hague are tenuous in the extreme, and involve adding 2 and 2 together and making 347, my other initial response was that none of it was any of our business, and what the hell difference did it make anyway?  So, a quick look in the archives is in order.  Cast your minds back to July 2006…
 
The Times, the Guardian, even the Telegraph have articles declaring close season on Prescotts. All of them say that it's time to stop probing into the DPM's personal life; that further attacks are mean-spirited and hypocritical and that the BBC had no right even to ask him to deny rumours. A slight whiff of sour grapes is detectable in the tone of much of this: this story is being driven by the blogs, predominantly Iain Dale and Guido, and the MSM have yet to come to terms with the style and nature of the blogosphere.

More disconcertingly, the tone seems to be that it's just not fair to pick on Prescott. Whose concern is his personal life anyway? It's a point, and yet not a very good one. It is ridiculous that if Prescott had been a star of Coronation Street every one of his tawdry affairs would have been published instantly, on suspicion, and yet his elevated title seems to make him immune from press speculation. It is also richly ironic that the self-styled scourge of Tory sleaze should seek privacy for himself when the tables are turned.

But the point that everyone seems to be missing is that Prescott's infidelities are inextricably connected with his failings as a minister. The women were in his office, subordinate to him. To have affairs, and to offer preferment in return is not just unpleasant for aesthetic reasons, but for legal/ethical ones as well. To ignore a story of this significance is a dereliction of duty. To attempt to downplay the allegations as coming from 'Tory blogs' is fatuous. It isn't time for us to lay off Prescott, but for Prescott to be laid off.
 
Double standards or what eh reader(s)?  Well, up to a point it probably is.  There was something irresistibly comic about Prescott’s love-life – and there was something concerning about a cabinet minister having affairs with civil servants.  And I am definitely much less enthusiastic in cataloguing the peccadilloes of Coalition ministers.  But, on the other hand, Prescott didn’t limit himself to sharing twin-bed hotel rooms, or wearing unfortunate sunglasses (I have to agree with Alex Massie that the acknowledged “sins” of William Hague are astonishingly trivial).  Unless the press (or Guido, who lets face it really is just doing to the Tories what he always did to Labour) have anything that proves Hague is lying, there’s nothing to this story – and if that is the case then the reporting of it has been pretty shameful.

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