Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Hand That Rocked the Inhabitants of No 10

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Hand That Rocked the Inhabitants of No 10

Article excerpt


The case of Cherie Blair versus the Mail on Sunday, Ros Mark and a London literary agent is not exactly overflowing with edifying conduct.

Behind the proclaimed motives of all the parties involved lurks a sickly whiff of cant. The Blairs are right to want to keep their children's lives out of the newspapers, perhaps even "to do whatever it takes to protect the legitimate privacy of our family life".

The Mail on Sunday proudly flies the banner of press freedom, denouncing the scandalously easy use of orders by judges in their pyjamas to restrain publication.

Jonathan Harris, the literary agent, may not be one of that trade's more scrupulous representatives, but was he not merely doing his job? Asked to find a buyer for Ros Mark's book, he tested the serialisation market first, in order to lubricate the hoped-for deal with a book publisher. I do not know how you test the market for any piece of writing without handing over some copy.

Ros Mark, Downing Street's first nanny and would-be "social historian" is, the Blairs tell us, a wonderful person. Whatever blame they now attach to her and her mother, any nanny who lasts over four years in one job is the object of unusually warm regard.

Nor do I find it wholly unreasonable that she should have imagined the confidentiality clause she accepted in her contract with the Blairs allowed her some latitude to make unmalicious public use of some of the information picked up during her period with them. After all, most executive employment contracts contain restrictions a good deal more onerous than those likely to have been agreed by Mark, but that does not stop the signatories hot-footing it to better-paid jobs with competing organisations and making profitable use of the knowledge gained with the abandoned employer. Nor have ex-ministers shown notable restraint in the speed at which they have despatched their memoirs to the presses. Mo Mowlam has started her negotiations while still in office.

These things are, however, very much the best that can be said of the parties involved. Against each of them sits a mountain of queries. Although the Blairs have sought to draw a line about press coverage of their children, they continue to play the game of personal image manipulation for political gain with a vengeance that invites retribution. How, for example, does the picture on page 17 of the banned edition of the Mail on Sunday -- showing Chris Evans patting Cherie's bump at the Brit Awards -- sit with the fierceness of their stance about personal privacy?

It is also true, as the Mail on Sunday claims, that the injuncted material includes nothing at all about the Blair children. I have read it. The content of the book may be different -- but the judge was not asked to rule on that. …

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