by Dan Hodges
This will already be the hundredth article that you have read about her. She began the week as anonymous junior barrister Carine Patry Hoskins. Now she is the woman on the left, the vivacious/doe-eyed/comical (delete as appropriate), star of the Leveson investigation into phone hacking.
The unfortunate Ms Hoskins will no doubt feature in the film of the book of the judicial inquiry. Indeed, both she and Hugh Grant will probably play themselves. Or if it is directed by David Lynch, each other.
Our brightest students will study her and the interrelationship between the courts, press, politicians and social media. “Monday, 21 November 2011 was the day the Twittersphere began to devour its own. Discuss”.
She will become the subject of debates about the law, feminism, class, love, longing, celebrity, privacy, voyeurism and the wisdom of cameras in the court room. Though I suspect that after yesterday there is about as much chance of the latter as Ronnie Biggs finding himself called to the bench. “What does the woman on the left tell us about…” headlines are set to assail us from every side.
This is what she tells us. She tells us Leveson is a farce.
Remember where we came in. This inquiry is meant to be investigating issues of such import that earlier this year several serious commentators were speculating they could lead to the resignation of the prime minister and the downfall of the government. It would be, we were told, the anvil upon which a once in a generation realignment of the relationship between politicians, public and press would be forged. According to many of those politicians, including the leader of her Majesty’s opposition, the Leveson inquiry would prove to be one of the most important of modern times.
Are you kidding? Leveson is already looking like the OJ Simpson trial, minus the gravitas and respect for the sanctity of the judicial process.
That infamous case was presided over by Judge Lance Ito, a man described by one prosecutor as “drunk with media attention”. Judge Leveson, in contrast, appears frozen in the spotlight. It’s quite apparent that the poor man doesn’t have the first clue what he’s doing. Which isn’t to say he isn’t competent to fulfill his terms of reference. But he obviously has no settled view on what those terms should be. The most telling parts of his interaction with Hugh Grant were when he virtually implored the star to advise him on the scope of his own investigation.
Grant himself is a decent and unremarkable actor, and seems a decent, if unremarkable, man. And he has clearly been the subject of some unacceptable media intrusion. But I’m unclear how his performances in Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bridget Jones: the edge of reason qualify him to pass judgment on issues such as media regulation and the sensitive balance between a free press and the state. Yet once again, Leveson bent over backwards to obtain his expert opinion; “From my perspective it’s abundantly clear this is a topic you’ve thought about carefully”, he gushed.
The Leveson enquiry is supposedly exposing, and finding solutions to, the issues generated by the media’s obsession with celebrity; though actually, it’s our own obsession with celebrity, as Carine Patry Hoskins has just discovered. But far from exposing it, Leveson is fuelling it.
Look at the BBC’s coverage of the day’s proceedings. The corporation’s website splashed on Hugh Grant’s evidence, focusing on his allegations relating to the Mail on Sunday, and honing in on “his conversations with a “plummy-voiced” woman”.
Only in the fourth paragraph did it choose to inform us of Sally Dowler’s testimony, in which she recalled the moment that she was informed her daughter’s phone messages had been deleted, erroneously drawing the conclusion she was still alive.
In fairness to the BBC, their 10 o’clock news bulletin led on Mrs Dowler rather than Grant. But both featured ahead of the Stephen Lawrence trial.
I thought we were finally getting the hang of these things. Lord Hutton’s report into the death of Dr David Kelly was an embarrassingly clumsy white wash. But the investigation that preceded was transparent and provided enough evidence for us all to see the dossier making the case for war had been so “sexed up” it resembled an Anne Summer’s catalogue. Chilcott’s investigation into the wider issues surrounding the conflict has also provided some powerful and interesting testimony, and benefited from its sessions being televised.
Leveson is a regression. Once Sienna Miller, Sheryl Gascoigne, Max Moseley, JK Rowling and the mysterious witness known only as HJK have breezed through, the most important inquiry for a generation is going to be looking more like a poor man’s version of Celebrity Big Brother. Which is not to say celebrities don’t have the right to have their say. But their evidence requires focus and context. And Lord Levenson is providing neither.
When asked by counsel about a statement he had issued in response to a story about his private life Hugh Grant responded, “It was not ideal circumstances. I was dressed as a cannibal at the time”. If testimony like that brings down the government it really will be time for a public inquiry. And Carine Patry Hoskins should chair it.
Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.