Alastair's Blog

Return to:  Blog | Articles | Videos RSS feed

Two great early morning moments

Posted on 10 July 2009 | 10:07am

I was up north for a wedding yesterday, in one of the most beautiful parts of Britain. Hence the stunning backdrops to telly interviews I did on David Cameron, Andy Coulson and the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

‘Oh Heathcliffe, Heathcliffe,’ or variants on the theme, was the most common text message that followed the one done right at the top of a Lancashire moor. That was for the Beeb whose equipment was apparently not as advanced as ITV and Sky, and who had to drive around to find a signal.

Anyway, as a result, I decided to get on the bike first thing this morning, and climb the said hill. Out of the hotel, the Inn at Whitewell, turn right, and the hill is immediate. If I tell you my top speed was 11mph and my lowest 2.7mph, you will know not only that I am not a top cyclist, but also that it was bloody steep.

But there was something wondrous about the early morning view that emerged at the top. I had a bit of a Wordsworth moment, stopped and tried to drink it all in, then thought what a wonderful country this is. You would be hard pressed to find a more beautiful spot anywhere.

On the return journey, I hit 38mph freewheeling downhill before panicking and hitting on the brakes pretty hard. Then breakfast, and reading Frank Skinner’s column in The Times led to my second ‘what a great country’ moment of the day. He was writing about the Trafalgar Sqaure fourth plinth project, taking a pop at the critics, saying it was a great symbol of freedom, and we should open our minds and enjoy it.

He has been along to see Anthony Gormley’s idea, One and Other, and his enthusiasm has made me want to do likewise when I get back to London, so I will. But first, I have a day with the manager and players at Burnley, filming for the BBC documentary I’m making on the club’s promotion. Happy days.

The phone hacking story seems pretty low key in the papers. I wonder if that is because the News of the World is not the only paper, and News International not the only group, to have got stories this way, so there may be a collective willing away of the issue.

I thought the police statement yesterday raised as many questions as it answered. There was also a very odd contrast between the speed with which some of these allegations were dismissed by assistant commissioner John Yates, and the long, drawn out investigation he led into so-called ‘cash for honours,’ an investigation launched on no evidence other than the claims of a Scottish Nationalist MP.

If I know John Prescott, I doubt that he sees Yates’ statement as the end of the matter.

  • Henry

    The key difference between the cash for honours and this case is that there has already been “a long and drawn out investigation” into the phone tapping. I think he said there was no new evidence – is this not the case?

  • Craig

    Great blog this morning – almost makes me miss cycling the Bowland Fells. I know the hill well – it’s called Cow Ark and we avoid it on the club run for a reason.
    Have a good day on’t Turf!

  • John Willman

    Newsnight did sterling service on the phone hacking story, but the Guardian may have erred in focusing on Coulson (and thus Cameron) rather than Murdoch. That said, Coulson’s response – that the compensation payments were made after he left – is lame, since they related to practices going on under his editorship. Andrew Neil and Simon Jenkins have both said editors should know where their scoops come from – and as former Fleet Street editors, they should know.
    Meanwhile the Tory bloggers have fallen uncharacteristically silent, convinced it is all a Labour dirty tricks operation. The police response is indeed incomprehensible – and puts to bed allegations of political interference by the government. But the next step must be to unseal any secret court judgments and publish a list of everyone thought by the police to have been targets, whether successful or not. Then further court cases can explore the issues openly…

  • Michael Sweeney

    Great blog post. The Forest of Bowland is one of the nation’s treasures, with the Lake District just up the road. I like to sample the delicious North West fare at the Three Fishes when I’m in that part of the world. As for sport, we’ve just had Wimbledon, now we have the Ashes and next week the Open at the wonderful Turnberry. What a fantastic country we live in – with good weather it is very hard to beat.

  • Ian Eastwood

    Just got back of holiday avoided TV and Papers for 10 days so just catching up on things. Labour must not let Coulson/Cameron off the hook on this one.

  • J Dickinson

    Yeah we all know Andrew Neill hates Cameron and Simon Jenkins isn’t exactly impartial but I agree with you if Andy Coulson has done something wrong he should say so and Cameron can get rid. If not then stick with him. There is too much trial by the media and guilty verdicts delivered ad hoc (no evidence required). Whether to vote Labour or not that is the question. 5 more years of Ed Balls lying in interviews (so obvious as his eyeballs nearly pop out trying to convince you) or 5 years of the obviously dodgy Osbourne and Hague. Hmm!! Having 2 kitchens’ Beith as your MP obviously the Lib Dems are not an option as they stand for whatever you want them to stand for and achieve zilch. I’m minded to vote Conservative though this is by no means set in stone as they are the only ones that can get rid of the useless Liberals

    Judith x.

    Floating voter par excellence

  • Alina Palimaru

    Just when one thought that News of the World couldn’t stoop any lower… This is outrageous! I hope the story persists until all is sorted out… I also hope that Cameron and co. will be exposed big time! It’s what they deserve after all the unjustified sugary media treatment they have been receiving.

  • Ann

    Agree with you, wonderful countryside and steep hills, go walking there now and again.

    Also agree Cameron/Coulsdon/phone hacking/police/cash for honours although highly unlikely, the truth must come out, it’s not the end yet.

    On a lighter note, hope you enjoyed your day in Burnley. It is a wonderful country we live in, well most of the time, and I for one would not wish to live anywhere else.

  • Jane A

    When you compare this coverage (think it was page 8 facing yesterday in the Times, half a page) to the wall to wall Telegraph-fest on MPs expenses, it’s clear the media feel there is one rule for them, another for the others.

    If anyone else – oh, lets see, a political party maybe – had been caught tapping the phones of the many, on speculative fishing expeditions for who knows what, the presses would be in hyper-manic-meltdown.

  • George Woodhouse

    It makes you sick – we thought it was only MPs that couldnt be trusted and that our saviours were the press. Now where doo we turn?

  • Katharine T

    @ Jane A. you said: If anyone else – oh, lets see, a political party maybe – had been caught tapping the phones of the many, on speculative fishing expeditions for who knows what, the presses would be in hyper-manic-meltdown.

    That did happen…it was called the Watergate tapes.

    Going back to the good old bad old Watergate days (I was a small child, but my first memory of television was my mother glued to the Watergate trial and also watching Vietnam on the news) you can be damned sure that if Woodward and Bernstein had the ability to tap into the phones of Charles Coulson or any of the Watergate players they darn well would have. As it turned out, Nixon did that all on his own….while Pierre Elliott Trudeau was saying that “the state has no place in the bedrooms of Canadians” his American counterpart was busy inventing conspiracy theories.

    This whole phone tapping thing disgusts people because it offends their moral compass, and no ones moral compass is set the same as another’s. When it is illegal, then they should be prosecuted in a court of law, but neither newspapers nor government have the right to point fingers in righteousness because for every newspaper journalist who has tapped a phone, in fact, every phone they have tapped there has been a politician somewhere in the world who has slept with their secretary, ripped off the taxpayers, or, hired people who hired people to break into the oppositions offices during election time. Journalists are known to be people who will do anything to get a “scoop”. Politicians are known to do anything to keep the power they have. It’s all a case of the pot calling the kettle black. The big difference is, the newspapers do not have a moral obligation to the people to do what is best for the nation, whereas elected officials do. What is the line to draw? It’s okay to sneak around with informants and get 2nd hand information, but it’s not okay to get it from the horses mouth in an equally dodgy manner? Watergate wound up being a coup for investigative journalism, and it was in some ways a high water mark that has never since been met. As the years have passed we have come to expect newspaper men to be slimey, and many of them are.

    By the same token, Nixon is seen as a freak of nature; a megalomaniac that will never grace the halls of western legislature again. I find that doubtful. I think since Nixon they’ve just learned to cover their tracks better. They aren’t all bad (Trudeau was an arrogant elitest, but, he was not that morally evil, Clinton was led by his dick more than his common sense, but history will be pretty kind to him), but to say that some of our governments are not capable of of the same slimey tactics that we KNOW newspapers (and we should not be surprised other than how did they get around it legally, which is another juicy scoop for whatever newspaper dictated the mandate NOT to do it and can rub their hands with glee) are capable of on a regular basis, is naïve and probably not entirely true.

    I am by no means defending the newspapers; I have a vivid memory of being interviewed as a teenager by the Toronto Sun to determine my “potential” to be a newspaper reporter. I was given a scenario that was gruesome and involved a moral dilemma of getting a statement from a grief stricken mother at 2 am who had just learned her child had been murdered by a madman. I gave the answer I knew they wanted; that you do whatever it takes at whatever hour to get the statement. I was deemed to have the “right stuff” to be a newspaper reporter, and was given a glowing review. In return, I was disgusted and never gave journalism a second thought ever again. To me, these people had a moral compass so low that it was sickening, and my opinion has never changed.

    The jury is still out on politicians, as I’ve never tried to be one, and I find it hard to judge harshly when I have never experienced it. I am sure I know what I would and would not do, but to know it in the context of the job is another matter.

    On another note, I agree. Britain is the most beautiful nation in the world, and in many ways Canada pales in comparison; I should know, I have been from one end of my country to the other, and there is very little in brash, untamed Canada that compares to the modest, quiet beauty of Britain. I never get sick of it.

  • Trevor Malcolm, Portsmouth Hampshire

    YOUR “WORDSWORTH MOMENT” OR YOUR WORDSWORTH MONEY?

    September 3rd, 1802

    ” … Earth has not anything to show more fair:
    Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
    A sight so touching in its majesty:
    This City now doth like a garment wear
    The Beauty of the morning … ”

    Yes, words we cherish forever, like some national treasure. But wait, what’s this, streamin’ in?

    July 10th, 2009 – Upon Cow Ark Hill

    ” … I had abit of a “Wordsworth moment”
    Stopped and tried to drink it all in,
    Then thought what a wonderful country this is.
    You would be hard pressed to find
    A more beautiful spot, anywhere …”

    Poetry don’t come more Pantheistic than that, I’d say, all you English Lit “Uni students” and scholars, out there

    The spirit of William Wordsworth himself (1770-1850) would add you’d also be hard pressed to unearth anywhere as prosaically named as “Cow Ark Hill” – well done again

    Shame WW didn’t choose there instead of that shabby “Westminster Bridge” for his little ditty. I bet he’s kickin’ himself silly you outperformed him

    So, Saturday, you’ll be “wondering lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o’er vales and hills …”

    Then Sunday, when you’re “wafting in the breeze”, round Hampstead Heath, even the Campbell canines will wonder if their Master’s gone, … well, daft as a bunch o’ “Wordsworth daffs”, I guess

    Wiser still, stick to your best prose scribblings eg award-winning novels, blogs, diaries, public speaking. What your family might label your “WordsWorthMoney” – because it sure pays better than poetry ever will

    The Cow Ark Hill metaphysical experience, you describe above, sounds more like the light-headed “funny turns” my elderly grannie suffered in her dotage, than the genuine “Lake Poet” Wordsworth moment you suggest

    What harsh, sarcastic comment, there

    But what intrigued me most, though, I’d always assumed that your gals, Fiona and Grace, would be the “culture vultures” in the Campbell clan, not you

    You are a QP, for sure – Quality Person – but seldom come across as academic, erudite, intellectual. More often, in years past at least, more like some bruising truculence, tempered with tinges of belligerence, a Burnley-version of dearest Norman Teb’s “on yer bike” Chingford thuggishness, kinda guy

    I’m sure many more must’ve misjudged you like this and should apologise. Especially now they see these unexpected glimpses into your softer, warmer “New Man” poetic sensibilities. Those that make Virginia Woolf’s Bloomsbury blue-stockings feel wowed and uplifted. Randy as hell, in fact

    Sorry if, at times, we got you wrong, sir. Please forgive. Blessed be, AC; and I remain, yours – in fawning obsequiousness

    Trevor Malcolm
    =============

    ===