Saturday, July 26, 2008


I cannot imagine that I would hit it off very readily with Max Mosley. The president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile has always moved in worlds that would bore me as much as they would repel me: motor-racing, engineering and right-wing politics. Mosley was born into the latter; his parents married in 1936 at the home of Joseph Goebbels, with Reich Chancellor Hitler the only other guest not present in the role of witness. His father was Sir Oswald, the 6th Baronet Mosley, the founder of the British Union of Fascists (known as the Blackshirts), and his mother was Diana Guinness, third of the celebrated Mitford sisters. After World War II, during which the Mosleys were interned, Sir Oswald attempted to rekindle his messianic political career and launched the so-called Union Movement in 1948.

From his teens, Max Mosley was active in the Union Movement and often acted as an advocate and apologist for his father’s views and political actions. When the Union Movement collapsed, he tried to forge a career as a Tory politician but found that his name counted against him. Given the alleged Nazi role-playing involved in the evening of sado-masochism that was the centre of Mosley’s just-concluded court case against the News of the World, it may be surmised that his name still carries a large degree of baggage.

The tabloid splashed its story in March under the headline ‘F1 BOSS HAS SICK NAZI ORGY WITH HOOKERS’. In this bizarre sentence, ‘F1’ means Formula One, the type of motor racing that the FIA administers, and ‘hookers’ (a somewhat outmoded term, it might be thought) means the five women who supplied Mosley with sexual favours for payment of £500 each. One of the ‘hookers’ also took £12,500 from the tabloid for secreting a camera into the ‘orgy’ (the results of which, I understand, could be temporarily admired on the tabloid’s website) and a further £10,000 from Sky News for an ‘exclusive’ interview. The News of the World and Sky News, it will be remembered, are both owned by that noted family man, Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch organisations therefore paid the woman 45 times more for her cooperation than did Mosley for her sexual services. Perhaps the term ‘hooker’ needs to be re-examined.

In a further strange wrinkle to the case, the husband of the wired-up ‘hooker’ was obliged to resign his post as a result of the publicity fall-out from the case; he was an employee of MI5. The now out-of-work spook may feel that he is harder done by than anyone else caught up in this curiously English affair.

Mosley himself decided to tough it all out. He called an Extraordinary General Meeting of the FIA and won a comfortable if not resounding vote of confidence. His term had already been artificially extended and has been marked by recurring controversy and bad feeling, so Mosley cannot have been sure that he would carry the day. In the event, many voices influential in the sport and its administration have been raised to advise him to resign. He has not so far done so and I cannot say that I blame him. To resign now would be to hand a suggestion of moral victory to the tabloid, even while it is licking its wounds at the record £60,000 damages and a substantial slice of the £450,000 costs.

Mr Justice Eady very properly articulated the point of law upon which the case hinged: “The claimant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to sexual activities … carried on between consenting adults on private property”. This was the nub of the case against the paper, whose reporters had clearly made a gross invasion of Mosley’s privacy, without ensuring that there was a watertight justification in so-called public interest.

What Mosley chooses to do with his privacy is nobody else’s business. The tabloid tried to dress its synthetic outrage (read: “glee at a juicy story”) with high-horse stuff about Nazis. Eady found “no evidence that the gathering [sic] … was intended to be an enactment of Nazi behaviour” and saw “no basis at all for the suggestion that the participants mocked the victims of the Holocaust”. Nor indeed ought it to matter a tuppenny damn if he had found such evidence. No victims of the Holocaust would have known of the ‘orgy’ if the tabloid had not reported it. People may strike whatever political stance they care to in private, without fear of reprisal or penalty.

The tabloid’s editor, Colin Myler, issued a statement outside the high court which declared that “taking part in depraved and brutal S&M orgies does not, in our opinion, constitute the fit and proper behaviour to be expected of someone in his hugely influential position”. He said Mosley had been guilty of “serious impropriety”, the kind of orotund pronouncement on the sexual behaviour of others that we haven’t heard uttered by anyone save with satirical intent in forty years. The hypocrisy of scandal-sheet editors knows no bounds. Myler wouldn’t know fit and proper behaviour if it jumped up and bit him in the leg.

The editor also declared that “our press is less free today after another judgment based on privacy laws emanating from Europe”. If the press is less free to spy on adults disporting themselves in whatever way they choose, then good for European legislators. But it is another intriguing aspect of this case that the Murdoch press, always anti-Europe, sees the judgment as a stick with which to beat Strasbourg while the Union Movement, in which Mosley cut his political teeth, was an early advocate of a Europe united into one superstate.

‘The freedom of the press’ and ‘the public’s right to know’ are two of the most abused rallying-cries of the modern era. The press is only as free as the international capital that controls it will permit it to be. Journalists are constrained by the writ of the proprietors fed down to them through editorial control. The duties of the press are more socially significant than its trumpeted but compromised freedoms. And the public has no right to know merely out of curiosity or prurience. There was nothing in the News of the World’s sting on Max Mosley that had any merit. It was another example of Oscar Wilde’s sly characterisation of “the English country gentleman galloping after a fox – the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable” [A Woman of No Importance Act I]. At least Mosley got the result denied to Wilde.

Friday, July 04, 2008


Hold the front page! There was no picture of Andy Murray on the front page of The Guardian today. Not since Monday has the gangly, scowling, air-fisting Scottish youth with the devoted mum, the modest tennis-playing ability and a curious fixation on his own (very average) bicep, been off the supposedly intelligent paper’s cover.

You might reasonably wonder if anyone else has been playing in the annual fortnight of overpriced and flavourless strawberries and sport that is Wimbledon. Indeed, there have been photographs of and reports about other players. But the word ‘disproportionate’ does rather spring to mind. I counted the pictures of male competitors printed in the paper from the first day, Monday of last week (yes, you’re right, I do have more important things to do, but there are many forms of displacement activity and this happens to be the one I chose today). Including today’s edition, The Guardian has carried 88 shots of male tennis players who were in the draw on Day One. Of those 88 pictures, 27 (including a totally gratuitous one today) have been of Murray, nearly a third. There were 128 players in the Men’s Singles draw and Murray was seeded twelfth. Roger Federer, the top seed and expected to win his sixth title in succession on Sunday, has been depicted in 14 photographs, just over half as many as Murray; Rafael Nadal, the second seed who defeated Murray easily in the quarter finals, has appeared 11 times as an image.

What’s more, Murray has appeared four times on the front page of the paper’s sports section and four times on the front of the main body of the paper. All other male players combined have appeared four times on sports front and just three times on the cover of the paper proper. Even Jamie Murray, Andy’s elder brother and a doubles specialist, has had his face in the paper six times, including once on sports front, and I’m not counting his picture on the column he ‘writes’ for the sports section (I put ‘writes’ in quotes because such columns are frequently ghost-written by an office hack and published over the name of an agreeable ‘celeb’ who likes getting paid for doing nothing). Oh, and there were two pictures of Chris Eaton. Remember him? You probably don’t; he was a very lowly – but British – competitor who survived to the second round as, by definition, did half of all the entrants.

It is a nakedly jingoistic impulse that drives this coverage. Tickets were changing hands for Murray and Nadal’s Centre Court match for £2,000, not because the buyers had suddenly discovered that they were fans of tennis but because they wanted to see a British victory. Had they known anything about tennis, they would have known that the hope was vain. But the press encourages this stupid jingoism, not just with its pictorial bias but also with the kind of stories it chooses to run. “Murray: I’m fit enough to win Wimbledon” was the headline on a sports front story this Monday. No he isn’t. Nadal is far fitter and has a far more mature game, though he’s barely any older than Murray. The Scot, like the Tinman whom he succeeds as Britain’s Vain Hope at Wimbledon, is an also-ran and – face it – he always will be.

Later this year, one of the most jingoistic of the world’s sports events takes place in Ireland, the biennial Ryder Cup, in which a European and an American team compete in match-play golf. A few tournaments ago, on the most recent occasion that the Americans won, there were disgraceful scenes when the winners began celebrating before the last European player had holed out at the 18th, thereby certainly influencing the putt. All nations are jingoistic about sport but none more than the States, where there is no television audience for any sporting event that holds no immediate prospect of an American victory. (Men’s tennis is in historic decline in the USA and so there will have been few takers there for Wimbledon coverage this or any recent year).

Football bores me to tears but I suppose we should take some heart from the interest shown here in the recent Euro tournament, despite the absence of all the British nations’ teams. This speaks of a degree of genuine interest in the game for its own sake, despite the attempts of the press, notably The Guardian, to talk up some alternative nation whose fortunes British viewers might “follow”.

Meanwhile, the closed season transfer market has been characterised as ever by footballers being bought and sold for eye-watering sums by the wealthiest clubs across Europe, regardless of their own national origins. Two or three years back, Arsenal played against a Spanish side in a cup match, where there were only two British players on the pitch and neither was playing for Arsenal. In what sense, then, is Arsenal an English football team? It and its vast new stadium are owned by arabs, its long-serving manager is French and its playing strength speaks in dozens of different languages. What kind of idiot gets ‘patriotic’ about this team’s results? There is barely a team in the premier league of English football that is owned by anybody or any organisation that is British. Liverpool FC no more represents Merseyside than does Paris Hilton. It just spends more time in the area than she does.

From time immemorial, the fan has equated a team’s or a sportsperson’s talent and prospects with its/their nationality, even while – here in Britain, at least – we ruefully subscribe to the notion that we are “good losers”. I’m not very interested in sport but, if I were, I hope I would value it for its beauty and grace at the highest level, irrespective of national boundaries. Nobody objective could really have wanted Andy Murray to beat Rafael Nadal. Apart from any considerations of tennis talent, the Spaniard is so much sexier.