Hacks, MPs and LibDem delegates assembled in a packed Grand Hotel conference room last night for the Hacked Off debate on press reform. Hugh Grant was bundled away from his meeting with Clegg by his many minders before proceedings began, leaving Steve Coogan as the sole star attraction. Somewhat predictably, the evening quickly descended into an all-out assault on press freedom.
Panelists and delegates focused their ire on the likes of Page 3, Boris and Kelvin Mackenzie, so it seemed as if Coogan was playing to the gallery somewhat when he exhorted: “I float between Labour and LibDem. But never Tory. I’d rather pull out my own eyeballs than vote Tory. Alan Partridge backs David Cameron”. The journalists present looked on with horror as NUJ boss Michelle Stanistreet condemned editors and Hacked Off professor Steve Barnett laughably admitted that “I have this vision of Kelvin behind bars”. The mood was summed up when a technical issue saw the lights briefly go down, only for delegates to shout “Murdoch!”. They promised a debate, but there was none to be found.
Then came the star of the show. Guido found it interesting how Coogan spent at least a minute beforehand standing and pretending to speak in order that paps could get their money shot. Evan Harris plugging his new book for him was no coincidence either – Coogan is only too happy to use the press when it suits him. When it came down to it, the Latvian-loving tabloid star was full of style but no substance. Apparently “press freedom is a lie peddled by proprietors and editors who only care about profit”, and when it comes to the Mail and the Sun there are “dark forces afoot”. Afterwards Guido asked Coogan about the charge that attacking Murdoch then selling his show to Sky could be seen as hypocritical:
“I am aware of it but I see a flipside, I think it makes me even braver. It would be even more hypocritical if I took his money and didn’t criticise him. What I’m doing puts me in even more danger.”
Just how brave do you have to be to trouser a seven figure sum…