Tribune leader, 5 February 1993

It is remarkable how much cant has poured from the press in the week since John Major issued his libel writ against New Statesman and Society.
At some point in the two years before last week’s events, nearly every national newspaper had made some knowing refer­ence to the rumour about Mr Major and Claire Latimer, who runs a catering company that does parties for Number Ten.
Those references were made only be­cause of the wide knowledge of the ru­mour among the public. Gossip spreads exponentially and this snippet had been doing the rounds for some time. By the time the Statesman published, it was com­mon currency in saloon bars throughout the land. Millions had heard it.
Journalists, particularly the diary and gossip columnists who make their livings by making their readers feel like insiders, knew that titillating references to the ru­mour would be widely recognised. The Guardian, the Sunday Times, the Evening Standard, the Observer, Today and the In­dependent on Sunday all ran items with precisely this goal. Yet these same papers, in unison, condemned the New Statesman for having the gall to publish a sober, well-researched article making it clear that “no one has produced a shred of evidence” to support the rumour. The writs from Mr Major and Ms Latimer were what the Statesman deserved, they crowed.
In Tribune‘s view, this consensus is not just hypocritical but wrong. Unlike the big newspapers, which ran the rumours as pure nudge-nudge, wink-wink, never making it clear that there was no evidence for them, the Statesmantreated the story re­sponsibly and without sensationalism. Far from suing for libel, Mr Major and Ms Latimer should both have been grateful to the authors of the article for having cleared the air and exposed the rumour machine for what it is.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Mr Major acted impulsively in decid­ing to sue. The costs of defending against a libel action being what they are, the New Statesman‘s survival will be imperilled if the case goes much further. If the Statesman goes under, the British left will be deprived of one of its few remaining peri­odicals committed to open debate, and British democracy will lose one of its most important gadflies. If Mr Major brings the Statesman down, he will do infinitely more damage to his reputation among democrats than the most calamitous con­ceivable libel could ever do.
Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.