The gutter press comes to town

A few weeks back, a young lady calling herself Arabella Ridge, and purporting to be a work-experience student, showed up in Brussels.  She was shadowing Tom Wise MEP, formerly of UKIP.
 
Most MEPs, in my experience, are keen to encourage bright young people with an interest in politics.  In my own case, I have had numerous young people working in my offices in Brussels and Strasbourg, and many more who have come for a week or two of work experience.  Some of my former employees have gone on to do great things, and I take great pride and satisfaction from that.  Sally McNamara, who worked for Chris and myself between 1999 and 2004 is now running the Margaret Thatcher Centre at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.  Cat Bray from Narborough worked for me, and later for other colleagues, and is also now in Washington, with the American Legislative Exchange Council, and working on “Atlantic Bridge”, a Conservative initiative to promote the transatlantic relationship.  Emma McClarkin, who worked as Press Officer and then Researcher for over five years, is now #2 on the East Midlands Conservative euro-list, and likely to be elected next year.
 
So it is not surprising that a number of colleagues were very happy to help young Arabella.  I bumped into her at a seminar on the problems of placing wind farms in peat landscapes.  She spent some time in my office, where my staff briefed her.  She was entertained to dinners, and to drinks afterwards (I missed that course, fortunately, since as everyone knows I tend to go straight to bed after dinner). And — you guessed it — she turned out to be an undercover reporter for the news of the World (NOTW).
 
I must admit that I had a passing suspicion, which I shared with both colleagues and my staff.  I noticed that she seemed to go to the bathroom about every thirty minutes.  Bulimia?  Changing the tape?  Phoning the office?  I also thought I caught a glimpse of an electronic gizmo in her capacious handbag.  But many of us do carry phones and blackberries and other devices, and to be honest I felt I was being slightly paranoid in warning people.  But sadly, my suspicions were well-founded.  Arabella was in fact Sophy Ridge, a journo with NOTW.
 
She was of course massively in breach of the Press Code.  She gained access to the parliament dishonestly by lying about her status.  She took clandestine photographs and (I assume) made clandestine recordings.  These matters may be of interest to the Press Complaints Commission.
 
On May 12th, her first salvo appeared.  Tom Wise bore the main brunt, but I was there too, described as “exploiting the expenses system” and “filling my boots”.  So what had I done?  She had unearthed the fact that the parliament’s administration had made an error in calculating my expenses, and that I had asked them to correct it.  My policy on expenses is that I accept exactly what the rules provide — not a penny more, not a penny less.  It seems to me that anyone who receives expenses in the course of their work would do exactly what I did.  But in the parallel universe of NOTW, this innocent story is a scandal worth several column inches.
 
She also made great play of my having “eaten scallops”, as though this in itself were clear evidence of scandal, and she accompanied the piece with a clandestine photo of me, fork-in-mouth.
 
The next week it was Chris’s turn.  He was headlined “Mr. Eat-On-Us”.  It was only days later I realised that this was intended to be a pun on “Heaton-Harris”.  His offence?  He had told Arabella that MEPs are besieged by invitations from lobbyists.  This is (A) True, and (B) Common knowledge.  Not much of a scoop there, and particularly unfair on Chris, who has made a point of being abstemious in accepting hospitality, and who has done Sterling work in exposing corruption in the EU institutions.
 
Personally, I make no bones about seeing lobbyists and attending briefings and dinner debates, with or without hospitality, but only when the topic is one that interests me — for example on energy issues, which I have followed in some detail.  I have learned a huge amount about a wide range of industries and issues, and this knowledge has been invaluable in doing my job.  Ironically, even if Chris had been accepting dinners from lobbyists, he would not be eating on the NOTW, or on the tax-payer, but at the expense of the lobbyists concerned.
 
The fact is that NOTW has taken wholly mundane and routine facts and turned them into highly pejorative and prejudicial reports which are entirely unjustified.  They are probably libellous.  Yet I can’t help feeling a sneaking regard for Arabella/Sophy.  I am furious at what she did, but I have to admire the skill with which she did it.  In fact I wonder why she doesn’t take up acting full-time and go on the stage.  Her skills would be better used there than in the tawdry world of tabloid journalism.

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12 Responses to The gutter press comes to town

  1. As a former employee and now (I hope!) a friend of Roger Helmer, I should like readers to note that he is a man of incredible integrity who frequently goes to extraordinary lengths to encourage young people in politics, with the only motivation being that he wants others to succeed.

    The Brussels system of pay, lobbying and remuneration is in and of itself fundamentally broken. Roger has been the first one to speak out against it and to my knowledge has always operated within the confines of the system in a legal, proper and fair manner. As an employee, I was treated with kindness, respect and remunerated fairly and properly.

    The News of the World has done the public a great disservice by concentrating on Roger’s dietary habits, rather than looking at the giant corruption and deceit that constitutes the entire European project. However, it seems that stories about scallops trump the government’s deceitful behavior in denying the public a referendum on the European Constitution.

    • clairethinker says:

      You are right – too many journalists just want a cheap story smearing somebody. they are not interested in giving people a fair account of how we are being exploited by the EU system.

  2. Iain Climie says:

    I did once see a lovely US T-Shirt Slogan from an alarmingly right-wing / NRA site but which still had some validity. It read “Rope, Tree, Journalist – some assembly required!”

    Apparently it is also available in “lawyer”.

    I wouldn’t be quite so cynical if it hadn’t been for a madcap charity event I ran for the RNLI many years ago. I got asked by a local paper how I’d thought of the idea and glibly replied “It was one of those ideas born from a beer too many”. This naturally got published – always assume your words will get out.

  3. spygun says:

    Only just read your tirade against Sophie Ridge.

    Apart from the fact that no-one gives a s**t – you really are acting very defensively. I presume when you cite Sally McNamara, Cat Bray and Emma McClarkin as great successes, you are not suggesting that they have done well ONLY as a result of having come into contact with you.

    One could suggest that they have done well IN SPITE of having come into contact with you.

    The main tool in a Sophie’s armoury was not her acting ability or her voluminous handbag but your own vanity.

    Her suggestion that a certain MEP’s prime motivation is the ugly spectre of his own self-interest was probably correct and the assertion ” She had unearthed the fact that the parliament’s administration had made an error in calculating my expenses, and that I had asked them to correct it.” smacks of running for cover.

    Ask yourself why you were targeted in the first place – it certainly was not for your contribution to progress.

    Keep an eye on spygun.com

    • clairethinker says:

      It was not a tirade and your attitude that the rules and regulations can be broken by people complaining that others supposedly break the rules and regulations is typical left-wing nonsense!

  4. Roger Helmer says:

    For what it’s worth, Spygun, I wasn’t tagetted at all. She originally approached Tom Wise MEP (UKIP). I happened to bump into her by chance, at a seminar in Brussels on the installation of wind turbines on peat terrain, as in Scotland (which by the way releases more CO2 than the turbine could ever hope to save).

  5. Roger Helmer says:

    P.S. Spygun: Re your comments on my former staff, you could try asking them. I don’t think you’ll find they support your thesis.

  6. Ian Sankey says:

    I say good on the ‘Gutter press’…. I am sick to the core of corrupt MPs and MEPs.

    I work hard for my money and resent those who we elected to work FOR US cheating expenses to STEAL from those they’re supposed to be serving.

  7. Landon Han says:

    If only more people would read about this!

  8. Josh Lyman says:

    “Straight talking”? With that moustache?

    Straight. Right. Yep.

  9. Tom Gowans says:

    Expatriate Volunteer English Teacher in Angola to his class: ‘So, my dear little Angolan Munchkins, having read Mr Helmer’s article and the subsequent comments, what conclusions can we draw?’

    Clever Clogs Student: ‘Sir! Sir! Me please Sir!’

    EVETA: ‘No Mr Santos, let’s give someone else a chance. Anybody?’

    Class Smart Arse: ‘That the food in Bruxelles is first class?’

    EVETA (brusquely): ‘Brussels. We are learning English and the English can hardly be blamed for the Belgians not being able to spell the name of their own capital. But yes, the food is first class and compared to London or especially our capital Luanda, very reasonably priced. Anyone else?’

    CCS: ‘Sir! Sir! Me please Sir!’

    EVETA: ‘Mr Santos, please…let’s hear what our colleagues have to say’

    Nice Chap in the Second Row: ‘That having a moustache in Europe means you are Gay rather than Straight?’

    EVETA: ‘Do you have Village People in your music collection?’

    NC in the SR: ‘Yes Sir! How did you know?’

    EVETA: ‘Never mind. Anyone else? NOT YOU SR. SANTOS!’

    Very Pretty Young Lady: ‘That Mr Helmer likes to help very pretty young ladies?’

    EVETA: ‘I am sure Mr Helmer has helped men as well… Don’t interrupt Nice Chap in the Second Row! …but I can see now how you, VPYL, may have a future in UK, we’ll send your CV to the NOTW, they will like the way you think. Please, anyone else?’

    CCS: ‘Sir! Sir! Me please Sir!’

    EVETA (sighing): ‘Sr Santos!’

    CCS: ‘If one is accused of something, no matter how ridiculous, defending one’s self implies guilt?’

    EVETA (impressed): ‘Very good, Mr Santos. Right, for your homework I want you to read this novel by Joseph Heller entitled Catch 22. Class dismissed.’

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