While the front page headlines have featured banking bonuses and football managers,the Leveson enquiry has been droning on in the background, coverage relegated to inside pages and occasional smart-arse op-ed pieces.
I caught half an hour of it yesterday, a set-piece moment in which Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, a newspaper, was being questioned by David Sherborne, counsel for Hugh Grant, an actor, about the circumstances surrounding the story of a non-existent affair between Grant and a “plummy-voiced woman” who had left “flirtatious” messages on Grant’s phone in the middle of the night.
Now, as far as I’m concerned, the Daily Mail lost all semblance of credibility about the time of the Zinoviev letter. And I really don’t care at all whether Grant had an affair with anyone, and even less about whether the lady in question had a plummy voice, even though it’s pretty clear that the whole story was based on listening in to telephone messages.
What I found quite extraordinary was the expensive incompetence of the event. Sherborne would refer Dacre to the “small bundle” of documentation – “if you will turn to tab 2” – which Dacre did not apparently have. And nor did Lord Justice Leveson. And nor, it emerged, did Sherborne himself. He had lent his copy to someone.
While this was being sorted out, a great many clocks were ticking: Leveson himself, Sherborne and a motley crew of barristers representing almost everyone with even a tenuous association to the enquiry. I have never used the services of a barrister, so I had no idea of the cost. But a quick Google search says around £1000 per hour for a QC. (Curiously, the first answer on Google came from the Daily Mail, which ran a story claiming that top QCs were earning £5000 per hour, and this was the fault of Gordon Brown and Labour.)
We do know that the Bloody Sunday enquiry cost £400 million. And while the Leveson enquiry will not run and run in that way – we hope – it did run up close to a million in its first three months.
You might say that this is merely the equivalent of the cut-price bonus awarded to a nationalised banker (which it is), but it is a hell of a lot to pay for hanging around waiting for people to find bits of paper, and a hell of a lot for a level of questioning and debate which would shame the regulars at Wilde’s on a Friday lunchtime.
Sherborne: “Will you apologise and withdraw your claim that Grant had made a mendacious smear against the Mail?”
Dacre: “No. And I’m not going to answer any more questions on that particular point.”
So there. Ya boo sucks to you, then. And to the enquiry. And to all of us.
While I have always believed these enquiries to be primarily concerned with governments postponing unpleasant decisions (in this case, what to do with Murdoch), it has become increasingly clear that the objective is to solve the unemployment crisis in the top class by providing jobs for the boys, and that the legal establishment is doing very nicely out of doing very little.
Maybe we should have a public enquiry into all this …
Today’s listening: Kelly Joe Phelps, great blues, great slide guitar, with a jazz sensibility. Love it.