There are few journalists in and around our free and fearless press nowadays whose behaviour is not constrained, often severely, by the dictates of editors and proprietors. Few dare pitch their own view rather than the line handed down from above, such is their desperation to hang on to their well-remunerated livelihoods. But there are still brave souls like Peter Oborne, who has unswervingly charted an independent course.
He left the Telegraph after it was revealed that the paper was allowing its editorial decisions to be influenced by major advertisers, notably HSBC. But he remained an unswerving Brexiteer - until last weekend, as his latest contribution to Open Democracy makes plain: “I was a strong Brexiteer. Now we must swallow our pride and think again”.
Thus the title, followed by a yet more telling sub-title: “If we are to leave the European Union we want a sensible Brexit. There’s no chance of that just now”. And his reasoning is summarised in a few damning phrases. “Brexit has paralysed the system. It has turned Britain into a laughing stock. And it is certain to make us poorer and to lead to lower incomes and lost jobs”. Also, he has more to say in the same vein.
“We Brexiteers would be wise to acknowledge all this. It’s past time we did. We need to acknowledge, too, that that we will never be forgiven if and when Brexit goes wrong. Future generations will look back at what we did and damn us … So I argue, as a Brexiteer, that we need to take a long deep breath. We need to swallow our pride, and think again. Maybe it means rethinking the Brexit decision altogether”.
As to the state of Westminster politics, he tells “MPs are at the end of their tether. The cabinet is harrowed and exhausted. I admire the prime minister, think she’s a hero, and have been one of her strong supporters. But she’s in the last weeks of her premiership”. Compare and contrast with those in the press who cheer on the PM, and fail even to mention the obvious - that she is finished, and her party is in chaos.
For too many of those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet, Brexit is mere spectator sport, with Leave advocates, Remain campaigners, business leaders, Trades Unionists, and the public at large treated as nothing more than participants in some grim spectacle on which they report, knowing they are largely insulated against the outcome.
Oborne at least realises that it is not mere sport, that there are real lives and livelihoods at risk. And his advice? “Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, is right. We should grab his kindly offer of a year’s sabbatical … I’ve heard the argument that people want to get it over with and ‘just leave’. That’s reckless, stupid and could inflict incalculable damage. Matters can get an awful lot worse … after we leave the EU. And I write this as someone who voted for Brexit”. But many of his fellow journalists aren’t listening.
Nor, it seems, are those at the paper where he has a regular column - the Daily Mail. Why his admission is not being published there tells you as much about the state of our free and fearless press today as his being in such a small minority in admitting his mistake.
Too many hacks have dirtied their hands over the Brexit débâcle. And unlike Peter Oborne, none of them are yet minded to visit the bathroom and clean it all off.
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