I was both pleased and intrigued by Roy Greenslade’s column in today’s Evening Standard. Pleased because it’s always nice to be recognised by someone you admire. Intrigued by this recollection of his experience giving evidence to a parliamentary committee.
Brooke follows in the tradition of journalists who pursue single-minded missions on behalf of the greater good, earning only a meagre reward for their efforts. But MPs, who should act for the greater good, cannot believe that Brooke doesn’t have some kind of vested (financial) interest in exposing their expenses to the public gaze.
One Labour MP said as much a couple of weeks ago when the investigative journalist Nick Davies and I appeared before the Commons Media, Culture and Sport Select Committee. It was a pathetic attempt to sling mud at Brooke and a forewarning of MPs’ reactions to the Daily Telegraph’s acquisition of their expenses claims.
Well my interest was piqued. Which MP was slinging mud at me? I did a little digging and found the oral evidence given to the Parliamentary Committee examining press standards, privacy and libel. It was not without a chuckle at his chutzpah that I saw my detractor was the Member for Feltham & Heston, Alan Keen. With his wife, Ann, the couple are known as ‘Mr and Mrs Expenses’ for using £175,000 of taxpayers’ money to help buy a flat near Parliament – while they already had a constituency home nine miles away. They claimed more than £300,000 between them last year alone.
Q484 Alan Keen: There is a woman who has frequently been on television and in the press who appears to me to be a campaigner for freedom of information, an American I think.
Mr Nick Davies: Heather Brooke?
Q485 Alan Keen: Yes. Does she earn a living from this?
Mr Davies: She is a journalist. She is a specialist in freedom of information. I think she is actually British and she worked in America and used their Freedom of Information Act, came back to this country just as ours was about to come into force so wrote a book which is a guide.
Q486 Alan Keen: I have seen her being interviewed.
Mr Davies: You are wondering whether she has some vested interest.
Q487 Alan Keen: Yes, because I have seen her on television being interviewed.
Mr Roy Greenslade: I know her quite well. She teaches the students at City. She is a single interest journalist in the old tradition of having one niche interest and following it to its logical conclusion. She lives, in monetary terms, on the margins.