If David Hill wants to draw an early, simple conclusion from the Hutton Inquiry, he might ?nd one on its website. Not from the transcripts of evidence from journalists, politicians and secret service agents that he’ll ?nd there. Nor from the mountain of e-mails that he could also read, exchanged between those witnesses, their respective managers and each other. Not even from the full documentary evidence of the dossiers, dodgy, sexy and otherwise, that he could peruse.
No, Alastair Campbell’s successor as government communications boss should instead take a quick peek at the log of visitors to the site. On some days there are more than 20,000 of them.
On one feverish day, 33,000 visitors pointed their mouses at www.the-hutton-inquiry.org.uk. And they lapped up what they found there. Between them, each day, they read on average a quarter of a million pages of pure, unadulterated, unmodi?ed, unspun details of how Government, the media and the security services operate.
That third U-word is crucial, of course. The Kelly saga may have been a particularly sensational example, but those traf?c ?gures demonstrate the appetite that is clearly out there for a story not distorted by the prism through which the public usually have to view so much of modern politics.
The task the new man faces is an up Hill one. Hercules might have paled at it. Untangling a web that his predecessor spun so ?nely is not going to happen overnight.
But he could do a lot worse than starting with the regional press, whose editors and political correspondents have long since given up on getting anything sensible out of central government. Many of them no longer even bother attending the morning brie?ngs, so meagre was the useable information they could glean from them.
For them, the system has become geared far more towards giving favoured national newspaper journalists nods and winks from unnamed senior sources than to giving them the straight details that their readers want.
So let’s introduce another set of ?gures that might help. Around 40 million adults, 84 per cent of the UK population, read a regional newspaper. Over the past decade, readership of paid-for weekly regional titles has grown by 15 per cent. In many cities, the regional morning and evening newspapers sell more copies than the biggestselling national dailies.
Those are serious numbers, and they deserve better than the treatment they’ve been getting.