Diarist-at-large Richard Ackland flys about the nation. By Richard Ackland.

A spot on the Black list

Can you imagine Gadfly’s excitement to receive through the post a stiffy from Lord Black bearing an invitation to drinks at the Cholmondeley Room at the House of Lords?

Good old Conrad of Crossharbour – even though we’d never met, he must have remembered me as one of the faithful galley slaves when he was overlord of the Fairfax presses.

I was so pleased that his years in a Florida prison had not weakened the tenuous bonds between us and naturally I was looking forward to an earful of his trademark fruity and ornate language.

As I would be in London, and thrilled to attend, I was told to arrive at the Black Rod’s Garden Entrance at the Palace of Westminster on Monday night and the request was accompanied by a list of security-related instructions. Make sure to bring photo ID, prepare to have possessions and body scanned and, most intriguingly, I was asked “not to bring an overnight bag”.

Was there some thought I’d want to kip down for the night in His Lordship’s anteroom?

The place was teeming with coppers and security was as tight as a drum, so naturally no one asked for photo ID, photographed me or wanted to know if I was carrying pyjamas.

I was ushered through miles of Gothic corridors, swathed in scaffolding and onto a glorious terrace overlooking the Thames. To my amazement there were several hundred other guests and Crossharbour was nowhere to be seen.

Maybe I was in the wrong place, as the host was the Lord Black of Brentwood, who turns out not to have once owned the Telegraph Media Group but to be its current executive director.

He was previously head of the political section of the Conservative Party research department when noted pig’s head fancier David Cameron was his deputy.

Apart from comparing himself to Nelson Mandela, nothing much more has been heard from Crossharbour since he was expelled from the Tory Party. He has been on leave of absence from the Lords since 2012.

1 . That’s the spirit

After staggering back to my hotel in High Holborn I find an email already waiting from one of the organisers of the evening’s knees-up.

“Someone purchased a bottle of House of Lords gin during the reception, and left it behind at the end of the evening. If it was you, please let me know.”

The Poms are nothing if not thorough when it comes to tracking down mislaid tinctures.

2 . Lords and order

The House of Lords is described by some editorialists as a bloated anachronism. Cameron has ennobled more people in five years than Margaret Thatcher did in 10. In August, he sent another 45 to the upper chamber, which now comprises more than 800 members. Too many to fit in at any one time.

Mostly they are former MPs, party hacks, members of local councils, and special advisers. The sort of group that one of our former PM’s might describe as “unrepresentative swill”.

There are faint cries for reform. Reduce the size of the Lords, and make its membership more reflective of the incredible diversity of Britain and less that of the Westminster bubble.

Fine, as long as they don’t mess with cocktails on the terrace.

3 . Vegging out

London is teeming with Eastern Europeans. Slavs, Balts, Romanians, Bulgarians and Magyars have captured the entire “hospitality” and service sector. And as such the cuisine at the various gilded receptions is reminiscent of the Soviet era.

At a luncheon held at the Law Society in Chancery Lane, surly waitstaff from the outer reaches of the EU were serving plates of boiled carrots and turnips.

This seems to be in keeping with the new Corbyn era, as the leader of the Labour Party is a dedicated vegetarian along with others in his alternative government.

In fact, there was a significant political eruption when Kerry McCarthy, shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, declared that meat eaters be treated like smokers. Presumably the idea is that they be segregated from the rest of society and not allowed to eat pies or hamburgers in public. Meat products would doubtless be stamped with prominent health warnings.

Jeremy Corbyn was forced into an embarrassing corner when the farming community responded to Ms McCarthy’s comments with dismay. He said some of his best friends were meat eaters, who even ate meat in front of him.

“I tolerate it with the normal decency, courtesy and respect that you would expect from me.”

4 . Fascinating views from the bench

Gadfly is in the libel capital of the world for the two-yearly corroboree put on by the New York-based Media Law Resource Centre. It comprises a stellar cast of media defence, free speech and human rights lawyers from around the globe.

Privacy, defamation, prior restraint, contempt – all the things designed to impede the free flow of finely crafted journalism – were up for discussion. Chatham House rules prevailed, so I’ll tiptoe carefully.

In a special panel called “views from the bench”, a well-known judge revealed he’s never sure whether instructing a jury in a criminal trial not to do private searches on the internet about an accused only serves to encourage people to do precisely that.

In any event, the judge said he has been known to do Google searches to see what jurors might find if they did the same thing.

Jurors are instructed not to peek behind the curtain during a trial, but no one told the judge not to do the same thing. A revealing moment.

Discussion was also devoted to the future of tabloids and phone hacking, with panellists from BuzzFeed and Popbitch.

It was generally agreed that tabloid journalism was here to stay because “there’s nothing an Englishman likes more than a bit of perversion with his breakfast, specially on a Sunday”.

A scholar added that tabloids were part of a “vibrant, democratic, populist culture” – something we should bear in mind when we’re feeling nauseous after breakfast with any of Lord Moloch’s fish-wrappers.

5 . Roll of the Dyse

For weeks, there’s something I’ve been meaning to get off my chest. There’s a claim that needs to be debunked and it’s made by Dyse Heydon, in his captivating reasons for not disqualifying himself from the trade union royal commission.

He tried to mount a case that lectures or foundations in honour of departed luminaries are not at all unusual and in doing so he cites numerous lawyer-politicians from around the globe.

One of these is, he said,  “Robert Jackson, chief prosecutor at Nuremberg and later chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States”.

Sorry Dyse, an eagle-eyed member of the Chester A. Arthur Society points out that Robert Jackson was never chief justice of the Supreme Court. He was expected to be CJ, but was never appointed. There was a ruction on the court and controversy that Nuremberg was really a series of show trials that would not be tolerated by a proper justice system.

There was also a notion at the time that acceptance of the job as chief prosecutor at Nuremberg had adverse implications for the prestige of the Supreme Court.

Sounds similar to the problem from which Dyse so gingerly was extracted by the ordinary reasonable bystander – that is, himself.

6 . Hairy timing

What with game over for Comb-Over Newman at the PM’s Business Advisory Council, one wonders what life must have been like for him as the years ticked down on his various executive positions at Deutsche Bank. 

He left Deutsche in 2001, which is just as well because by 2007 the bank was advocating that investors shift from the carbon-based economy and look to opportunities in the renewables sector.

This would have been enough for Maurice to tear out his hair. The bank’s position would not have sat well with an executive who was talking about dangerous United Nations climate change conspiracies as a way of taking control of the world.

Fortunately, his mothership, the Centre for Independent Studies, will probably provide a haven for him.


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 3, 2015 as "Gadfly: A spot on the Black list ".

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Richard Ackland is The Saturday Paper’s legal affairs editor. He publishes

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