There’s a great scoop in The Times today. A political columnist, former chief leader writer of a national newspaper was, unbeknown to readers, acting as David Cameron’s chief stenographer for six years. In his columns he’d present himself as a former Tory official, retired and out of action. Full of self-deprecating anecdotes about what happened back in the day when he was working for William Hague. What he failed to disclose was that, in between writing opinion pieces for his newspaper and acting as its Executive Editor, he was scurrying off to Downing Street to take dictation for the Prime Minister on a monthly basis. He recorded Cameron’s ramblings, hoping a to use them for a memoir for which the PM is keen to bag a million quid.
The name of the columnist? None other than Mr Steerpike’s old friend Daniel Finkelstein – now Lord Finkelstein. And the newspaper in question is, of course, The Times. Setting aside the question of whether the paper’s editors knew (Mr S assumes not, otherwise readers would no doubt have been told), Steerpike can’t help but wonder why this cosy relationship was not disclosed in the long Leveson inquiry, one that purported to look into inappropriate links between politicians and journalists.
Cameron even volunteered a bizarre rule that he lists all of his meetings with ‘senior journalists’ – but left Fink off the list. At the time, he said that this was because they were chums and saw each other a lot. In fact, this served to endure the working relationship between Fink and Cameron working relationship was kept hidden. So Cameron ended up listing every meeting he had with various journalists he hardly spoke to, information that no one asked for, while concealing the fact that he was holding monthly debriefing sessions with a Times columnist who he later ennobled.
There’s a reason that journalists tend not to work hand-in-glove with politicians. It raises ethical questions: to whom do your loyalties lie — to readers, or to the government? And here’s the question: for whom was Lord Fink working all of those years – for Times readers, or for the Prime Minister?
PS Thomas Barnes, who edited the Times from 1817 to 1841, declared that the ‘newspaper is not an organ through which government can influence people, but through which people can influence the government.’ That quote opened Peter Oborne’s profil of The Fink, published three years ago. Read the full piece here.