What a happy day it must have been for Melissa Jacobs when a silly old fool called Lord Triesman took a shine to her.
She had applied for a job with him in 2007 when he was a Labour minister. He left the job soon afterwards to become chairman of the Football Association, but the two of them kept in touch. There were flirty texts, then dinner, and then, at least according to Melissa, some kind of affair.
Whatever the nature of the relationship – which he says went no further than a “kiss on the cheek” – it ended not because she was 37 and he was 66 and married but, according her blog Sex, Love and OCD, because “I realised that he is incredibly self-centred and egotistical.” Fighting ego with ego, Melissa began to drop online hints about her alleged affair. One post was called “Never trust a government minister”, another “The Labour minister and I”. The press responded to these siren calls, and soon an intermediary was in negotiations with a number of media organisations.
At the end of it all, a Sunday newspaper wired her for sound. She met up with her admirer and he made various idiotic statements about the Russians bribing Word Cup referees. Exit Lord Triesman, blushing. His career in public life is over.
It is the kind of honey-trap which has been the speciality of the downmarket press for years. All it needs is a willing young woman, a foolish older man, and a cheque-book. It was sleazy, embarrassing to read, but compelling. There was often a powerful element of prurience, hypocrisy and deception about the way the story was exposed, but that was the way the tabloid press worked.
How things have changed. Now the whole culture is playing the same game, and without a trace of embarrassment. The idea that there could be the slightest hint of dishonourable behaviour when a rich news organisation co-operates with a young woman on the make in order to entrap someone who has fallen for her is unthinkable.
The man is in public life. He is fair game. The end always justifies the means, however sleazy and underhand they may be. As for what that end might be, it can be virtually any kind of inappropriateness (sex, expenses, dodgy opinions) as judged by those great arbiters of morality and virtue, the press and the people. If you hold public office, or even if you are moderately well-known, your right to privacy can now be breached at any time in the greater interest of society. A Prime Minister accidentally bugged by a stray microphone can only apologise; the buggers themselves will triumphantly exploit what is widely and uncritically seen as a journalistic coup.
Is this really what we want? Does it help us all so much if we have the right to eavesdrop with impunity on those in public life? It is a nasty development when our society as a whole plays the part of a sheet-sniffing hack from a Sunday rag.
When will Vanunu’s torture come to an end?
There is a cruel irony to the news that Mordechai Vanunu is being returned to prison at the very moment when a nuclear non-proliferation pact is back on the global agenda.
Mr Vanunu was jailed in 1988 having revealed to The Sunday Times two years previously that Israel has a nuclear capacity. Of that sentence, an astonishing 11 years were spent in solitary confinement. When Mr Vanunu was released in 2004, the Israeli government imposed brutally restrictive controls over him, forbidding him from leaving the country, going near foreign embassies or even talking to foreigners. Three years later, he was arrested once again and accused of having spoken to the BBC. A prison sentence was reduced to community service, but there was a further problem. Mr Vanunu claimed, with some justification, that he would be unsafe doing the service anywhere but the Arab east Jerusalem.
The authorities rejected his request, and now this brave, unfortunate man will be behind bars for another three months. Doubtless he will be pursued once again when he is released. It is surely time for the international community to stop looking the other way and demand that Israel abandons its 24-year persecution of a man who dared to tell the truth.
I prefer my asparagus local
The next time that a large supermarket boasts of its green conscience (you won’t have to wait long), it is worth bearing in mind the story of Tesco and the Peruvian asparagus. Because there are few vegetables better suited to our climate than the asparagus, a significant industry has grown around it in recent years. Between April to June, it provides jobs across the country, often for small companies. Production has risen by over 160 per cent over the past five years.
All the same, Tesco persists with air-freighting Peruvian asparagus – less tasty than British, incidentally – some 6,000 miles to place on its shelves. The reason, one can only assume, is that because workers in Peru are paid less than in Europe, the supermarket can make a bigger profit on these imports.
There was the briefest hope that the volcanic lockdown of airports might convince the massively profitable supermarket chains to cut down on their imports of fresh vegetables and fruit from the developing world in order to encourage customers to eat, when possible, produce which is local and in season.
Here the depressing truth could not be clearer. Even when the vegetables are grown locally, are in season and are of good quality, Tesco will prefer to follow the money, greedily choosing an alternative which is harmful both to the environment and to our own economy.
Independent, Tuesday, 18 May 2010