Vultures salivating at the prospect of rich pickings

COMMENT: Our public services can only take so much

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When Alistair McAlpine was at the height of his powers in the 1970s and ’80s, most people were only vaguely aware of his existence.

He was a shadowy, Cardinal Wolsey-type figure at the court of Margaret Thatcher, but his ability to manage and replenish the Conservative Party coffers made him enormously influential.

His job done, he eventually accepted a place in the House of Lords and slipped even further from the public consciousness – until last week.

He is now embarked upon a vengeful mission which, if successful, will contribute far more to the moral fabric of the nation than his time as the Tories’ top money-man.

Understandably incensed by the role played by Twitter in the propagation of vile and wholly false accusations of child sex abuse made against him, he has pledged to hunt down the 10,000 responsible for his humiliation.

Free speech is a precious right, but with it comes responsibility, and these cyber snipers have abused that special privilege.

Social media has encouraged a careless arrogance which masquerades as freedom of expression.

These people believe the laws of defamation do not apply to their scurrilous gossip – and a lot of them are about to find out the hard way that is not the case.

The exponents of this kind of venal chit-chat should know better.

Circumstances have thrust Lord McAlpine into the vanguard of a movement which could ultimately disinfect a communications cesspit – and it may not stop there.

Those who host message boards, for example, where outrageous comments are routinely made behind a grubby veil of anonymity, may well find themselves guilty by association.

After all, when authors are sued for libel, it is quite common for those who publish the work to be included in the subsequent action. And if Lord McAlpine is successful in his quest, listen out for a distinctive rustle in the ‘no win no fee’ undergrowth.

The vultures are already wiping the saliva from their chins, at the prospect of some rich pickings.

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