Archive for the ‘Melanie Phillips’ tag

Add another to Melanie Phillips' list…

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The Speaker Michael Martin is the latest public figure Melanie Phillips has called on to resign (see previous post “Do the press’ calls for people to resign have any effect?“).
Under the headline “Until the Speaker goes, our faith in Parliament can’t be restored“, Phillips gets even crosser than usual:
“He [Martin] is simply the worst Speaker in living memory. It is a disgrace that he is still in office. But then, this dreary catalogue of abuse of office is all of a piece with the tragic decline of that great institution of which he is the custodian”.
Still, based on previous form there’s now every chance Martin will stay in it for the long haul.

Written by Martin Moore

February 25th, 2008 at 10:33 am

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Do the press' calls for people to resign have any effect?

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Along with much of the rest of the press, Melanie Phillips has today called for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, to resign.

“[W]e are all profoundly shocked by him [Dr Williams]” Phillips writes, “He should stand down and Dr Nazir-Ali, who is trying to defend the religion and culture of this country, should take his place”.

But will her calls have any effect? Is the power of the media such that when they call for someone to go that person inevitably starts to pack their bags?

Using Melanie Phillips as a proxy for media power, I thought I’d do a little digging and find out. Phillips seems like a pretty decent proxy, given that the newspaper for which she is a columnist, The Daily Mail, is said to cast more fear into the heart of government than any other. On top of which she’s been an influential columnist for many years – writing for the the Sunday Times and the Guardian prior to the Mail. And, she has a pretty impressive track record when it comes to calling for resignations.

Based on a brief web search she has demanded the head not only of Dr Rowan Williams but of:

Sir Ian Blair, Patricia Hewitt (‘her every utterance seems to bear no relation whatever to reality’ 16-4-06), Des Browne, Tessa Jowell (‘The fact that she has not already resigned is therefore scandalous’, 6-3-06), Ruth Kelly (it is a ‘disgrace that she clings on’, 16-1-06), David Westwood (Chief Constable, Humberside Police during Soham), Margaret Hodge, and Sir Paul Condon.

These are in addition to those people for whom she says ‘calls to resign are growing’ such as – back in 2003 – Alastair Campbell, Geoff Hoon and Tony Blair.

How many resigned as a consequence of these calls? As far as I can tell, none. (Of course the jury is still out on the Archbishop). Sir Ian Blair is still in post. Des Browne remained, as did Tessa Jowell – though shifted by the new PM. Ruth Kelly continues to ‘cling on’. David Westwood was suspended for 10 weeks by David Blunkett after the Bichard Inquiry but then reinstated, Margaret Hodge held on despite the ‘Islington controversy’, and Sir Paul Condon, according to Peter Wilby, ‘survived the shooting of innocent people without much trouble’ [compared to Ian Blair]. Blair lasted another four years and Geoff Hoon stayed at Defence until 2005.

Alastair Campbell could be considered an exception although Phillips was not (in my press search) calling for his resignation but rather reflecting public calls for him to go.

So why does Phillips keep calling for people’s heads?

It is made even more puzzling since Phillips herself has, for a long time, believed that ‘no-one resigns’. In a piece for the Guardian in 1993 titled ‘What does it take for a public figure to resign?’ Phillips wrote that:

Public life has fallen into disrepute and the cynicism of the people knows no bounds. It’s the anything-goes-as-long-as-you-can-get-away-with-it culture, and it’s as prevalent in the corridors of Whitehall as the joyriders’ ghettos. Moral standards in the press – whose job it is to expose public misdemeanours – themselves lack a certain something“.

Presumably Phillips would argue she is doing her best to uphold moral standards in the press. But is calling for people to go the same as exposing public misdemeanours? Or do the constant, and ineffectual, shouts to “RESIGN” simply give people the impression that the Fourth Estate is doing its job but actually just lead to greater public cynicism?

Written by Martin Moore

February 11th, 2008 at 2:01 pm

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