News International – the gift to Labour that just keeps on giving

7th November, 2012 3:30 pm

As David Cameron ponders the deeper strategic meaning of Romney’s defeat for his fractious party, in the back of his mind I suspect there is something a little more prosaic distracting  him disproportionately from this and the everyday great affairs of state.

So, this weekend has revealed a few silly texts between the Prime Minister and a newspaper editor – so what? Is it anything more than that staple of good, old-fashioned tabloid reporting, to spread innuendo about impropriety (preferably sexual, if possible), for the titillation of the Great British Public?

Quite possibly not. And, first of all, let’s stop talking about phone-hacking, Leveson or Rupert Murdoch as issues which Labour are in a position to come out winning from. Leveson may well have some good recommendations about future press and government behaviour with respect to it but, in general, it will arguably affect left and right in comparable measure. It’s now clear that the Mirror was phone-hacking too, which further takes the heat off NewsCorp.

And, frankly, if Rupert Murdoch’s head on a silver platter were to be the ultimate objective for Labour of all this, it could still happen. But a more realistic reading may be that the wily old fox will live to fight another day. In fact, even his son, who seemed much more in line for a career-limiting outcome, is back on the BSkyB board.

However, all the while, there is also clearly ongoing damage to the Tories of the slow drip-drip-drip of stories coming from a very specific area: their relationship with News International and the same figures’ involvement in Newscorp’s bid for BSkyB.

A recap: when Jeremy Hunt was involved in highly compromising revelations earlier this year about the BSkyB bid – not to mention the exquisite Thick Of It moment of hiding under a tree – it was unclear why he was left still in post. Yes, there was the issue of Cameron not appearing weak by sacking on the whim of the press pack or the Opposition benches. But the easy, and least damaging, thing would therefore have been to sack him quietly in the summer reshuffle, as some suggested he would. He did not. Why?

Secondly, we are by now used to seeing Cameron lose his cool at PMQs. But his extraordinary response in avoiding the questions of Chris Bryant MP on his texts to Rebekah Brooks is not only probably breaking with parliamentary protocol, but downright odd. Why is he so riled by Bryant?

Thirdly, there is his almost incomprehensible reluctance to release said texts to Leveson. If, as seems highly likely, they will leak out anyway, why would you not simply hand them all over yourself? You are otherwise merely making it look as if you have something to hide, even if you do not. Poor judgement.

Then there is still to come, next year, the trial of Rebekah Brooks herself. From what we know about her, a reasonable guess might be that, were she to be convicted, this would not happen without her taking a few of them with her. And, whether or not she is found guilty, how is Cameron going to deal with his close association to someone whose name is likely to be, at the very least, dragged through the mud over a period of months?

And that is before we even start on Andy Coulson’s trial. Without getting into the trial itself, let us not forget Cameron’s abysmal judgement in employing someone who had, astonishingly, already openly admitted to paying police officers for confidential information.

And then there’s George Osborne, the man who lobbied for Coulson’s hiring. As the Telegraph’s Damian Thompson reported earlier this year:

“News International contacted Rupert Harrison, George Osborne’s special adviser, to discuss Vince Cable’s attitude towards the BSkyB bid.”

How exactly is it proper behaviour to use one member of the government to influence the quasi-judicial decision of another in a department he has nothing to do with?

And so we start to arrive at an alternative hypothesis. That, perhaps, the Prime Minister might just not have sacked Hunt because there might later come out something else, directly connected to him, which might beg the reasonable question of why he did not also sack himself?

That is not to say necessarily illegal, or even improper behaviour but, at least, embarrassing and highly questionable, in the case that the perpetrator is the country’s most senior politician? That the reason Hunt is still in post is simply that “we stand or fall together”?

It is far, far too early to say with any confidence what will come out of the next few months. But it is suddenly at least possible, faintly possible, that the revelations which Bryant calls “the tip of an iceberg” might even be the end of Cameron. When such things finally gather critical mass in the age of internet and rolling media, resignations can come in days, not months.

We shall see. In the meantime, what is certain is that this story is not going away any time soon and, as Alastair Cambpell observed:

“…if the same story ran for ten to twelve days you knew you had a real crisis management issue not a frenzy.”

When it has been there for more than a year, and in all probability rolling on for another one or two years, then that is pretty terrible news for the Tories.

And there is a delicious irony to all this which no-one seems to have noticed: for the party which turned a blind eye to phone-hacking for so long, their leader is now being damaged by someone, er, hacking his own.

But finally, lest we crow too much, we should not forget that even then, the most important story is largely wrapped up in the person of one man – Cameron. We should not forget that, should he ever become a true liability to his party, his defenestration would be quick and merciless, rather like that of the party’s longest-serving post-war prime minister.

The Tories are down but they are certainly not out.

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]
  • “And there is a delicious irony to all this which no-one seems to have
    noticed: for the party which turned a blind eye to phone-hacking for so
    long, their leader is now being damaged by someone, er, hacking his own”.   QUITE.

  • Jeremy_Preece

    There are several threads running through this saga, and the one which strikes me the most is Cameron’s awful lack of judgement.
    He tried to hang on to Michell, and to Liam Fox long after their polition became untenable.
    Hiring Andy Coulson in the first place,
    His relationship with Brookes
    and so on and so on.

    There is a side of me that does not want to see Cameron crash to earth just yet as he might make thej Tories easier to take out at the next general election.

    • Interesting thought Jeremy, although I’m not sure I’d agree. I think – in a coldly objective way – he’s still widely seen as an asset to his party, on balance. In the Valley of the Blind, etc.

      Also, I’m struggling to think of a replacement figurehead on the Tory front bench who would be a tougher leader to beat.

  • AlanGiles

    And yet:

    “Ed Miliband says boycott the Sun – so David Miliband writes for it”

    This was an observation made by many bloggers earlier this year when The New News Of The World (aka The Sun on Sunday) started out.

Latest

  • Featured News Momentum set to mobilise thousands to back Corbyn this weekend

    Momentum set to mobilise thousands to back Corbyn this weekend

    Corbynite pressure group Momentum is expected to muster thousands of activists in a series of emergency rallies to counter what it describes as the “deeply undemocratic” efforts to oust Jeremy Corbyn. In response to the no confidence vote earlier this week, the left-wing faction has organised rallies and events in order to demonstrate grassroots support for Corbyn, as well as his anti-war and anti-austerity policies. Protests have been planned in Manchester, Liverpool, Exeter, Plymouth, Penzance for the weekend, as well as emergency meetings to bring together […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News McDonnell: Rebels’ leadership bid will land in the “next few days”

    McDonnell: Rebels’ leadership bid will land in the “next few days”

      John McDonnell today confirmed expectations that Jeremy Corbyn would face a leadership election in the “next few days” as he used a Brexit speech to highlight the imminent “end” of freedom of movement. The shadow Chancellor repeated his vow never to stand as Labour leader and struck a relaxed tone, after a week of turmoil, as he told backbench MPs to “calm down”. McDonnell, a longstanding ally of Corbyn, confirmed he would chair his friend’s campaign once again as expectations […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Scotland Dugdale and Khan join forces to protect jobs after Brexit vote

    Dugdale and Khan join forces to protect jobs after Brexit vote

    Sadiq Khan and Kezia Dugdale today vowed to work together to protect London and Scotland from an economic hit after the Brexit vote. In a move drawing together the two areas of the UK which voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union – as well as Northern Ireland – the pair developed plans for how both economies could withstand the economic turmoil of leaving the EU. The politicians are expected to stay in regular contact throughout the Brexit negotiations […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Alison McGovern: We may have a Brexit hangover but now is the time to listen to Labour’s local leaders

    Alison McGovern: We may have a Brexit hangover but now is the time to listen to Labour’s local leaders

    Politics and government are different activities and while the corridors of power are buzzing with the former, the latter is in short supply. Westminster at the moment is in a state of paralysis, poleaxed by a referendum result that few wanted and even fewer predicted. But across the rest of the country, the show goes on. It is notable the first off the blocks in response to Brexit were leaders of devolved administrations, in Scotland, Wales and London. While Westminster […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News LIVEBLOG: Afternoon round-up

    LIVEBLOG: Afternoon round-up

    Corbyn is still putting together a new frontbench as speculation rises about the intentions of Angela Eagle and Owen Smith. While the Labour Party is in limbo, we will bring you all the news as it comes. Friday – 15.44 Hello all, here’s your afternoon round-up of what’s gone on within the Labour party so far today.  1) Angela Rayner has been promoted to shadow Education Secretary Jeremy bringing together Education Women & Equalities in Shadow Cabinet to directly hold Nicky […]

    Read more →
x

LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends










Submit