I believe David Cameron when he says that he didn’t discuss the BSkyB issue at the many meetings he had with representatives of News International. But the person on the street might not.
There’s a mood that makes people think the worst about we poor souls in public life. Whether distrust is created by the media or not doesn’t matter. Ignore it at your peril, especially when it comes to gifts and hospitality.
I use various tests when deciding whether to accept a treat.
First, are there any decisions in the offing affecting the person or their company? If yes, then no gift or hospitality should be taken. Ever. I’ve had contractors offering me lunches when they have been bidding for a contract and the answer is a firm no.
Second, is it in the interests of the council? Lunch with the editor of LGC would be acceptable (it would be nice to be asked…).
Third, never accept anything from a politician.
Fourth, is it proportionate? A bottle of wine at Christmas or a dinner costing about £40 is all right. I always raffle any gifts for charity.
Finally, and most importantly, what would the average person on the street think? It doesn’t matter if you are as honest as the day is long, and the conversation, whether over lunch or the slumber party, is above board - if Jo/e Bloggs could perceive it as inappropriate or even bent, then the answer is no.
Sir Paul Stephenson should not have accepted five weeks at a health spa on four of my five criteria, regardless of whether there was any connection to the News of the World.
Should David Cameron have met News International executives 24 times since becoming prime minister? Based on my tests, probably not. But then, should the PM be judged the same as an oik in local government?
MPs’ expenses, public sector senior pay, News of the World relationships with politicians and senior police all reinforce the view that people in public life are in it for themselves. Don’t fuel it with dangerous liaisons.
The one thing he won’t comment on is his identity…