The interview in this weeks Spectator of David Cameron and specifically the answer he gave to a question about the trial of Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo is a gross misjudgement on the part of both David Cameron and Fraser Nelson who conducted the interview and as editor of the Spectator published it. The magazine has previous form in this area in the four years since Fraser Nelson took over as editor in 2009. The following is from Wikipedia “An article in November 2011 by Rod Liddle on the trial of two men eventually convicted for the murder of Stephen Lawrence led to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) deciding to prosecute the magazine for breaching reporting restrictions. The magazine chose not to contest the case, and the publisher Spectator 1828 Ltd pleaded guilty at the court hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court on 7 June 2012.”
It is clear from reading the article that Fraser Nelson asked a question he did not expect David Cameron to answer. “I ask a question I feel sure he’ll dodge: about the trial of Charles Saatchi’s former housemaids and the revelation that his ex-wife, Nigella Lawson, used cocaine. Her fans have rushed to her defence: ‘Team Nigella’ is used as a hashtag on Twitter and even sprayed on city walls. Is the Prime Minister on Team Nigella?” The answer to this question is provided in the magazine as it is in the report on the interview in the Telegraph (sister paper to the Spectator). As the Telegraph explains, since the publication, the judge has made it clear to the Jury how unhappy he is with this failure of protocol: “It is of regret when people in public office comment about a person who is involved in a trial which is in progress. It is inconceivable that some of your number have not seen the reports. The defendants feel aggrieved as the comments, although they do not specifically deal with matters in this trial, are favourable to Miss Lawson. The fact that they may feel aggrieved is not without justification. You will realize that what public figures say or feel about a witness in this case can have no bearing on matters that you decide.”
The fact that the Spectator itself was once edited by Nigella’s Father, and she was once one of its columnists, must make the actions of Fraser Nelson more than simply carelessness. It seems surprising that the criticism of the PM by the judge, does not extend to that of the magazine that published the question and answer. There are many implications of this interview. Apart from the actual cost to the public purse of the half day delay to the trial at Isleworth Crown Court, there must be a real prospect that if the Grillo sisters are found guilty, that they will use the intervention by the Spectator and its interviewer as a justification for an appeal. This trial is not a plaything for the Cameron, Nelson, Saatchi and Lawson world to manipulate. The risk of its breakdown or failure sends out a message to other people involved in the Criminal Justice System, that the establishment does not treat it as seriously as many of us know it should be. Worse still some might interpret this as an indication that our established figures feel above and beyond the normal practices of our legal system. Parliamentary privilege is something that needs to be limited and carefully used, it cannot be allowed to spill out into interviews in the back of a Ministerial car.
The final implication of David Camerons ‘carelessness’ is that if he is on someone’s team when it comes to a trial, no matter how they are involved, it seems inevitable that that person will be on his team when it comes to the re-election of David William Donald Cameron, and his team Conservative. Whilst that may not be a surprise to the Labour Party who have many of their own team supporters, it is yet another example of why some of us feel that Politics is increasingly what happens to us, not what we do together to change our society for the better. Yet another nail in the coffin of our vital democracy.