Politicians can get away with many lapses in behaviour and judgment. But two that they can not merely wave away are evasion and deceit. And Theresa May, our not at all unelected Prime Minister, has exhibited both these traits - live on TV - as news has leaked that a test firing of a Trident missile went badly wrong, with the device veering off its intended path towards Africa, instead making off in the direction of the USA.
But, so what? The missile was launched cleanly, it was unarmed, and all that happened was that its internal navigation system somehow went wrong. That, accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders, might have sufficed - had the event been reported at the time it happened. But everyone including the PM kept schtum, and a Commons debate and vote on renewing Trident happened between then and now.
The suspicion of deceit was only heightened when Ms May appeared before the host’s inquisition on The Andy Marr Show (tm) and was asked - four times - whether she had known of the failed missile test when the Commons Trident debate took place. Four times she evaded. It was the Sunday morning equivalent of Newsnight’s “Did you threaten to overrule him?” moment - except that it then led the news for the rest of the day.
And the evasion of the PM is still at the top of the news agenda - except for the right-leaning part of the Fourth Estate, where Theresa May can be assured of not just support, but the selective disclosure that is there, at times like this, to help a beleaguered friend. So while the Mirror and Guardian have put the missile story front and centre, the rest of the press pack has dutifully kept the PM’s evasiveness off their front pages.
The creativity displayed, and the sheer lameness of the stories substituted, will no doubt make the likes of Paul Mason smile. The Telegraph claims “May trade deal will open door to US jobs”. What trade deal? There won’t be one - not until 2019 at the earliest.
Meanwhile, the Murdoch Sun puts an alleged cancer scare on its front page, except the idea that chips and brown toast causes it is unproven in humans. But it keeps the PM’s evasion out of the way, and is also used by the allegedly upmarket Murdoch Times.
Despite the Sunday Times having broken the missile test story yesterday, its daily stablemate can only manage the cancer scare, a mention of the PM’s visit to the USA, and splash the realisation that there are things called business rates. Who knew?
The Mail has - most conveniently - found that it might be possible to get from Brussels to London on Eurostar without showing a passport, which enables the Dacre doggies to frighten their readers with claims of “Terrorists”. But good of them to keep the PM’s failings off the front page - and tell those terrorists how it’s done.
Then the Express, retaining its joke paper status, screams that a million people who talk foreign are on their way to the UK (really? Not really), and that Free Movement should therefore be unilaterally stopped - which its editor knows is not possible.
All of these have dutifully covered for Theresa May’s deceit and evasion. Something to consider next time you are told of how vibrant and free our press is. It’s not just about what they print - it’s often about what they keep from you. And the PM is still in trouble.