The shadow chancellor George Osborne has been lunching privately with the textiles magnate Richard Caring, the Labour-supporting businessman who got caught up in the cash for peerages investigation. It is less than a year since Osborne demonstrated a catastrophic failure of judgment by being lured onto a yacht owned by the disreputable Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. After the Deripaska episode Osborne promised to have nothing more to do with political funding. Yet here he is consorting with another party donor. What on earth does the shadow chancellor think he is doing?
Oborne is falling into a trap. Using his logic, a politician should never meet or have lunch with any businessman who could potentially be considered a political donor. Did Peter Oborne consider that George Osborne might possibly be meeting Mr Caring to learn about textiles and the sector's contribution to the British economy? He insinuates that Osborne would have been touting for a party donation, but admits that Caring is a Labour supporter. How do those two statements marry?
I am all in favour of journalists having a go at a politician when that politician has done something wrong. But to do so on this evidence presented is just gratuitous.
Stories likes this illustrate something which, if we are not careful, is going to lead to few people ever wanting to go into politics. If the media automatically assume that a politician is up to no good because they are seen lunching with someone who is in business, we are on a very slippery slope indeed. Peter Oborne wants our politics cleansed, and he is absolutely right to want that. So do most of us. The challenge for politicians is to gradually restore trust to our politics. But the challenge for journalists is to avoid writing stories which impute wrongdoing when there is absolutely no evidence. All that does is feed the present public appetite for any story which appears to suggest that all politicians are crooks.
Later in his diary column Peter has a go at Parliament for "sabotaging" what he describes as the "flawed but sadly necessary" Parliamentary Standards Bill. The PSB was a hastily drafted Bill with more holes in it than Rab C Nesbitt's underpants. Far from sabotaging it, MPs removed one of the dafter parts of it and sought to amend others. It's called parliamentary scrutiny. Sadly some of the other dafter elements of it remained intact because the government used its majority to force it through. When you make law in haste, you may be sure that you will be able to repent at leisure. Let's hope the House of Lords amends it in a positive way so the Bill can achieve what it means to - a cleaner, more transparent system, under which MPs can perform their parliamentary duties in a way we can all approve of.
Please don't interpret this as me having a go at Peter Oborne. As I say, he is man and a journalist I have the utmost respect for. I just think in this column, he is wrong. But that doesn't stop me recommending his Dispatches documentary tomorrow night on Channel 4 at 8pm, called THE CHILDREN BRITAIN BETRAYED. It's a film abour child homicide. Did you know that one child a week in Britain is killed by one of its parents? No, me neither.