Do the politicians negotiating with Hacked Off know who funds them?
Do our politicians know who is lobbying them?
I'm asking this because I was struck by one of the most remarkable examples of obfuscation I have seen, in a long article by Brian Cathcart, the executive director of the Hacked Off campaign.
The former Reuters journalist, now an academic at Kingston University, has published a piece entitled: "Hacked Off: What did we do? And did we win?". It concludes with the following paragraph:
"We do not regret accepting money to fund our activities from some people who did not want their donations made public. We understand and respect their desire to avoid the kind of hostile treatment that has been dished out to people who openly criticise the press, and we are grateful to them for their generosity. We are grateful too, to the very many generous people who have given money openly. We have been open from the outset about our funding."
You have to admire the chutzpah of anyone who can confirm the organisation he represents is not willing to reveal where it gets its money from and insist it has been open about its funding - in the very same paragraph. My best guess is that he means Hacked Off has always been open about the fact that it won't reveal the sources of its funding.
I don't believe Hacked Off is part of some sinister lefty plot. One or two papers have made great play of the links between Hacked Off and "leadership development" organisation Common Purpose. It turns out graduates of Common Purpose's training courses include The Birmingham Post's new editor, Stacey Barnfield, so I'm guessing they're not secretly plotting to destroy our newspapers.
Nor do I think it's wrong for anyone, billionaire or pauper, to campaign for laws they want. Prof Cathcart asks in the article I linked to above: "What right did we have to involve ourselves?". That's a bit of a straw man, surely. Anyone has a right to lobby their MP, or the Government, or the opposition parties. Our politicians can choose whether to listen or not, and if they listen to the wrong people then it's their responsibility (and voters can judge them accordingly).
But they really should know who it is that's lobbying them. We know that Prof Cathcart and other Hacked Off representatives (human rights lawyer Hugh Tomlinson QC; former Lib Dem MP Evan Harris, and academic Martin Moore) took part in a late-night meeting with senior politicians on Sunday March 17 to discuss the amendments which the Commons added to the Crime and Courts Bill the next day (although Hacked Off seem now to have disowned those amendments). Present were Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman, Lib Dem Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Conservative Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin.
I'm sure the politicians knew all about Prof Cathcart and his colleagues. But can you really know who you are dealing with when you don't know who is funding them? The financial backers may not have been in the room but don't the people who pay the bills generally have some influence on the organisation they are funding - whether it's a political party or a lobbying group?
I don't expect Ms Harman, Mr Clegg or Mr Letwin to reveal who funds Hacked Off. That's for Hacked Off to do themselves, or not. But I would like some reassurance that they have at least bothered to ask who is providing the cash - and that they have received answers.
So have they? This is the question I'll be asking all three (alright, probably their press officers) tomorrow. I'm not very hopeful of getting straight replies, but whatever they or their spokespeople say, I'll let you know.