Sir Anthony Beaumont-Dark, former Tory MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, is
no longer a name to conjure with. He hasn’t been for four years since he
lost his seat. Yet once he epitomised the symbiotic relationship between
MPs and political journalists. Scarcely a day passed by than Sir
Anthony’s views were on record. He was one of the most reliable rent-a-
quotes in the Palace of Westminster.
I am reminded of his passing by events in the High Court where more
light is being thrown on the curious relationship between MPs and media
by spy writer Rupert Allason, Tory MP for Torbay. He is suing two former
Mirror writers - one of them Labour leader Tony Blair’s spin doctor,
Alastair Campbell - over a story about his alleged concern - or lack of
it - for Robert Maxwell’s Mirror pensioners after winning pounds 250,000
or so in libel damages from the paper.
The case spotlights the ancient art of Early Day Motion (EDM) writing
with which the PR industry is not entirely unacquainted. It has emerged
that another Mirror journalist wrote an EDM, signed by 50 MPs,
suggesting Mr Allason might usefully hand over his winnings to Mirror
And the estimable Chris Moncrieff, former political editor of the Press
Association, cheerfully told the court of journalists dictating EDMs to
MPs to provide ‘a stronger peg to hang a story on’. In return MPs get
There is, of course, nothing new in this. It may not say much for the
spontaneity of news or MPs’ independence. It says even less for those
journalists who demanded that I, as No 10 Chief Press Secretary, should
have an open, on-the-record relationship with them while they maintained
their shabby, undercover symbiosis with MPs. But it is a fact of life,
driven by the reporter’s overriding need to produce stories and
sometimes by political prejudice masquerading as crusading journalism.
Which brings me to the worst of it. This collusion between journalist
and MP can, in its worst form, prostitute the very purpose of the
privilege which is provided by the Commons’ Order Paper. The immunity
from prosecution, both for the MP who makes the allegations in an EDM
and the journalist who broadcasts them, is obviously intended for use in
In my experience, extremis has an elastic definition. Indeed, I know of
a case where a broadsheet printed with impunity a story based on an EDM
which an MP failed to table.
I hesitate to suggest more work for Lord Justice Nolan, but if he is
concerned about honesty in public life, he might helpfully lift the veil
on the relationship between MPs and journalists and the contrived
rubbish which finds its way on to the order paper as a result.
Sir Bernard Ingham writes for the Daily Express