Magazine article The Spectator

I Would like to Say Something on Behalf of a Man Who Has Been Left to Sink

Magazine article The Spectator

I Would like to Say Something on Behalf of a Man Who Has Been Left to Sink

Article excerpt

It can happen to a columnist that he wants to write something, then, discretion being the better part of valour, reconsiders. `Maybe I'm wrong? Or maybe the whole tenor of the times is against me. People will think me a dupe.'

So he scraps the idea. Then wakes in the night, suddenly sure the piece should be written; then thinks better of it the next day: `Fools rush in . . No, let somebody else write it.' But nobody does, and he wakes again in the night.

So here goes. I have the feeling - and it won't go - that Ian Greer has been unjustly treated. I have the impression of a sort of hounding by the Guardian that has gone just a step beyond the enthusiasm we expect from a crusading newspaper. There was something McCarthyite in the air.

Best to lay my cards on the table. I have known Mr Greer for many years, as an MP then as a friend. I've never worked for him - never done anything, really, for him. Years ago he asked if I would think about joining his board as a paid non-executive director. I never pursued the idea, but was completely satisfied that it was for my advice as a consultant that he wanted me. I would have been some use.

A subsidiary motive, I suspect, was that of kindness. On losing my job in television in 1988. Ian Greer had asked if I needed help personally, which I did not. But he has helped me very materially in fundraising for the Stonewall Group, who lobby for homosexual equality. He has bought me lunch, too. I have eaten strawberries on his lawn. I have met his poodle.

It is very easy in these suspicious times to say `Friendship? Hospitality? Strawberries? Poodle? Ah no, this was all part of the construction of a network of indebtedness', and, to the extent that all of us in the media, politics and business do 'network' and do trade on contacts, friendships and introductions, then - yes - Mr Greer was a networker, and for his clients an effective one. But this is what everyone in his industry does. Greer did it with charm and good humour, but he was also (and separately) a generous and sociable man. He knows me well enough to know that what little influence I had could not be bought. Over the decade of our acquaintance there has never been the least hint of any attempt to try. He has never asked me to write in his defence, not even now.

We are falling into the error of setting, in the changed context of the Ninetiess, a period during the Eighties when things were done differently. We are demonising one man because that is easier - and makes more sensational newspaper copy than reflecting that we have all changed. It is notable that the whole lobbying industry has gone very quiet at the fall of Greer: holding their breaths and hoping he will carry their own past practices, too, on his back and off into the wilderness.

But in those days the payment of commission for business introductions did not look sinister, as now it does. The recruiting of an MP to act as a consultant did not look sinister, as now it may. The assertion that, once the introduction between client and MP had been effected, such arrangements as they made or declared were a matter for them, may sound lame now, but sounded common sense then. We all bantered merrily of `having a tame MP' on board. People did pay, or lunch, or invite out the MP and he or she did make helpful interventions in Parliament. And many, many lobbyists not just Mr Greer - used to boast of the facility with which they arranged these things.

In years to come it may be possible to assess how important or corrupt any of this was - in the current overheated atmosphere that is impossible - but what cannot be sustained is the implication that one man was the author of it. …

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