Publicity junkie calls for privacy law


Lembit Öpik really is the gift that keeps giving, isn’t he? It’s only a matter of days ago that the swinging Lib Dem MP was making the news for canoodling with a lingerie model half his age. Indeed, they were even posing for photos together. Yet now, the bold Lembit has ventured once more into the public domain, and this time he’s angry.

What has provoked Lembit’s ire is Some Guy With A Website, who has decided to have some fun during Westminster’s summer recess by asking the general public to send him photos of MPs sunning themselves on holiday. Lembit is concerned that this promotes an image of MPs as a bunch of lazy freeloaders, as opposed to Stakhanovite shock workers who spend 18 hours a day attending showbiz parties serving their constituents. And in fact, Lembit is so far mounted on his high horse – or maybe that should be his vintage motorcycle – that he’s calling for a privacy law to protect MPs from being photographed without their permission, as opposed to for photoshoots they have arranged themselves. No harm to Lembit, but isn’t he the very last MP who should be calling for a privacy law?

In other Westminster news, Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay has been talking about his decision to stand down at the general election. I do have my misgivings about Mackinlay, not least concerning his chummy relationship with the DUP. But on the whole, when you think about the identikit candidates filling up Parliament these days, someone like Mackinlay – an awkward cuss, dogged in pursuing his causes, defensive of the legislature against the executive, unwilling to be bought off by the New Labour machine – is exactly the sort of MP you really need more of.

Not, however, according to the misnamed National Secular Society (Titus Oates prop.), who are in full No Popery mode. The occasion for the NSS’s ire is an interview Mackinlay has given to the Tablet, where he talks a little about his Catholicism. Mackinlay, in a rather inoffensive interview, mentions that Catholic Labour politicians face less sectarianism than they did twenty or thirty years ago, and that, although he’s retiring, he expects the incoming House of Commons to have a fair number of Catholics. He also remarks on the way that the Catholic hierarchy dealt rather effectively with Alan Johnson’s crackpot scheme to force faith schools to take 25% of their intake from non-believing families.

There could scarcely be an issue more guaranteed to wind up the NSS, who gratuitously refer to “Andrew MacKinley, Catholic…er Labour MP for Thurrock” in a transparent attempt to raise the old “dual loyalty” canard. And, as if to prove that the NSS’s bigotry is ecumenical, this appears below an attack on incoming European Parliament president Jerzy Buzek, a Polish Lutheran. The article is headlined “New President of European Parliament wants a ‘Christian Europe’”, but unsurprisingly Buzek didn’t say that. He made some general remarks about how his faith informed his politics, how people of faith have a contribution to make to debates about the future of Europe, and how he wants a dialogue with Europe’s Christian churches and other religions.

Buzek is also quoted as saying, “Respect for others who think differently is also a special value for Christians. Such is my understanding of the presence of these values in social and political life. I have never manifested my faith in a persistent manner. The best way of showing what we believe in is through our own actions and behaviour in daily life, and by acting publicly in a way which reflects our deep Christian faith.” For a Polish politician, it’s remarkably middle-of-the-road stuff – it’s hardly what you’d hear on Radio Maryja, and it doesn’t strike me as problematical at all.

Not so Titus’ sidekick Keith Porteous Wood, who comments, “It is depressing that such unrepresentative people keep getting elected into key positions in politics.” It is depressing that Keith fails to understand basic democratic concepts such as “election” or “representation”, or that Buzek holds a key position because lots of people voted for him. Unless we’re talking about some esoteric NSS-speak where only a political sphere composed entirely of militant atheists would be truly “representative”. You know, like they used to have in the Soviet Union.

[Hat tip: Gonzo]


  1. ejh said,

    August 9, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    No harm to Lembit, but isn’t he the very last MP who should be calling for a privacy law?

    No. In fact he might be the right person to explain the elementary point that just because you allow yourself to be photographed sometimes doesn’t remotely mean that anybody can do it any time they want.

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 9, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    Come on now, it’s a bit like Katie Price calling for a privacy law. Maybe he knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end, but someone who courts the cameras so relentlessly is not likely to be taken seriously when he talks about his right to privacy. Cruel, perhaps, but true.

  3. WorldbyStorm said,

    August 9, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Buzek does indeed seem very level headed. On a slight tangent, isn’t it an interesting period we move into now where the Polish and others from the former Eastern Europe start to flex their muscles at EU level (albeit that the achievement of the positions inside the EU doesn’t per se mean that dynamic has been initiated, but…).

  4. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 9, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    It is indeed, especially when you think of how there’s been a tendency in Brussels to treat the eastern countries as lesser Europeans – see the way Barroso lectures the Bulgarian government like an emperor with an errant proconsul. The Czechs have avoided a lot of this, mainly because Klaus was very combative on the point of them being equal with everybody else. But as for the rest, it’s taken a while for them to assert themselves, and it’ll make things a lot less predictable.

  5. ejh said,

    August 9, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    someone who courts the cameras so relentlessly is not likely to be taken seriously when he talks about his right to privacy

    He might not be, but he should be. That’s the whole point. Inviting somebody into your home does not entitle them to come into your home when they are not invited. Arranging a photoshoot does not mean that anybody is entitled to take your photo when they wish, and nor does arranging a thousand photoshoots.

  6. Garibaldy said,

    August 9, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    The new countries have been flexing their muscles with their attempt to have it adopted as EU policy that the USSR was the same as the Nazis. Disgusting.

  7. Garibaldy said,

    August 9, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    Oh, and on the point at hand, privacy should be extended. But if MPs are say taking brown envelopes to ask questions or what have you, there is no reason they shouldn’t be photographed doing so, which is what Lembit’s suggestion would entail.

  8. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 9, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    Yes, and quite apart from Lembit himself, it’s surely not a very propitious time to be saying that MPs should be shielded from public scrutiny.

  9. Garibaldy said,

    August 9, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Indeed not. Although perhaps the public should be shielded from many MPs.

  10. Gaina said,

    August 10, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Hello 🙂

    I just found your blog via ‘The Daily Quail’ on twitter and I’m enjoying it so far :).

    I agree with ejh’ s argument but also agree with the argument based ‘brown paper envelope’ scenario that Garibaldy put forward. There are certain facts the public have a right to know that can’t be obtained by seeking permission because of the very fact that the person knows they are doing something wrong and goes out of their way to hide it.

    I think a balance could be found in a ‘common sense clause’ to any kind of privacy law in that you must first have your facts spot-on and prove that it is in the public’s interests to know about possibly underhanded and/or criminal behaviour before the story or photographs are published. We all know how a simple photograph can be manipulated a hundred ways to make a story that isn’t actually there so I think this provision would give more balance.

    It might also mean that newspapers might actually have to – gasp! – start acting with some integrity!

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