Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Move Along, You've Had Your Fun

I know that the Conservatives are keen on seeing the Phone-hacking story disappear from the news cycle, but on Newsnicht on Thursday Gordon Brewer looked like he was willing the Phonehacking story to disappear (ironically enough, he will have got his wish with the Norwegen terrorist attacks and another inductee to what Mrs Cobain called “The Stupid Club”).  While the possible collapse of the Euro and the unfolding crisis in Somalia are weighty news stories, it’s still wrong for politicians and journalists to will us to concentrate on these matters, like stern teachers.

Yet, last weeks events have signalled an end to the first phase of this scandal.  It was right that after the Murdoch’s & Rebeckah Brooks appeared before the Media select committee and Cameron made his statement before Parliament that there should be an end of a chapter feel.  We now await the police’s findings and any proposed prosecutions.  Phone hacking itself will disappear back to the backburner, unless new revelations are unearthed involving NI or more likely from other newspapers like those under Trinity Mirror or the Daily Mail (who lets not forget according to the What Price Privacy Now report were the biggest clients for illegally obtained personal data).

The focus of this story will possibly now shift to the events surrounding the proposed buy-out of BSkyB by NI.  Before the scandal broke, Jeremy Hunt was due to wave the bid through – giving NI the green light to bid for the satellite company.  All that changed with the scandal and now attention has switched to what conversations went on between Cameron, Hunt & Murdoch since Cable was stripped of his role in December.  At the debate on Wednesday, Cameron said that he had no “inappropriate conversations” in relation to this subject.  Jeremy Hunt contradicted this by saying that “the discussions the prime minister had on the BSkyB deal were irrelevant”. 

It is interesting to note that despite the rush to refer the deal to OFCOM, and the faith everyone places on that regulator regarding a “fit & proper” rule to holding a licence to run a television company.  Private Eye have noted that OFCOM have not applied these “fit & proper” rules in the past – most recently in the case of the acquisition of Channel 5 by Britain’s pornographer in chief (and owner of the Daily Star & Daily Express) Richard Desmond.  The suspicion here is that OFCOM would have waved this deal through as well

Cameron’s performance last week only really limited the damage to him.  Had he suffered as he has done in PMQ’s of late, or had Miliband pitched his response a little better (been a bit more subtle), then the speculation about Cameron’s future may well have grown.  As it is, Cameron should be safe until the Conservatives convene for their conference in Manchester, which makes conference season an interesting one.  But to return to the point made at the start, yes there are stories that deserve our attention, it’s just that Phonehacking and NI’s attempt to pervert the course of democracy is one of them, and should not be dismissed so easily by people with vested interests.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Like A Twisty Spindly Thing...

Hackergate just keeps on running & running.  Just when I thought that the story would run out of steam after the resignation on Friday of Rebekah Brooks & the withdrawal of News Corporation from their bid to buy BSkyB, there came the twin resignations of Paul Stevenson & John Yates.

The strange thing is that both men, from the outside, didn’t appear under that much pressure to resign.  Yes, there were issues surrounding both men’s closeness to News International (see the previous post), and the story that Stevenson had accepted “Thousands of pounds worth of free accommodation at a health spa” had not gained “traction” (despite the appearance once again of Neil Wallis).  Despite this, the announcements on Sunday night and yesterday afternoon do appear strange in the circumstances to say the least.

This should make today very interesting to say the least.  Both men are due up in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee, while both The Dirty Digger & little Digger are up in front of the Media & Culture Select Committee.  What the four men say (Brooks is also appearing, but is fully expected to say “No comment” for sub judice reasons), may go a long way to determining the next direction this story will go in, maybe even in the direction of the Prime Minister.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Some Thoughts About The Passing of "The Screws"

As predicted earlier, things have changed. As a result after this Sunday, the News of The Screws is no more.  Murdoch has clearly sacrificed his biggest selling Sunday newspaper, in order to draw a line under this scandal.  If it works, expect Jeremy Hunt to give the go ahead for the buy-out of BSkyB after the Summer recess.  If it doesn't, Murdoch, Brooks, cameron & Hunt are in more trouble than they though...

However, the issues in relation to alledged police corruption have come to the fore.  There are two interesting snippets that deserve to be picked up by the mainstream media, see what you think.

1)  Both the Deputy Commissioner of the Metripolitan Police Paul Stevenson & Inspector Yates had dinner with the Screws deputy editor Neil Wallis in 2006, at the time of the first phone hacking investigation.  Yates also dined with the current Screws editor Colin Myler & their crime editor Lucy Panton in November 2009, not long after the decision not to re-open the Phone hacking investigation was taken.

2) Andy Hayman, the former assistant commissioner to the Metrepolitan police was the main investigating officer for the first enquiry into phone hacking.  Hayman left the Met in 2007 and now works for...  News International as a columnist for The Times.

(Hat-tip: Private Eye issue 1286)

Getting Rid Of The Phone-Hacking Scandal

It has taken four years to come to some sort of denouement but on Monday night the whole phone-hacking scandal exploded out of the Westminster bubble with the revelations that the private eye Glenn Mulcare hacked into the mobile phone of Milly Dowler, days after she went missing.  Yesterday the banks burst as revelation came after revelation, with other victims of crimes finding that they too had their phones hacked by Mr Mulcare.   The revelations have proved to be so shocking, that the News International Chief Executive, Rebekah Brooks has a new nickname.  Toast.

The sense that the red top tabloids are out of control, in particular the News of the Screws, is not new.  We have been here before urging controls on the conduct of the press.  Remember the days after the death of the Princess of Wales.  The press acted contrite, and the mid market tabloids vowed to never use pictures from paparazzi again.  Well that lasted didn’t it.  This isn’t very different, remember the public weren’t interested when it was the likes of Sienna Miller and Hugh Grant being hacked.  After all, they are celebrities, they are fair game aren’t they?  They might have very famous jobs, but that does not make them fair game.

People have said that this is the product of a macho news-room mentality.  Sorry, but all news-rooms have a macho mentality.  Kelvin MacKenzie was no shrinking violet when he edited The S*n from 1981 onwards, while several of today’s editors have a reputation for being serious swearers.  What this is a product of is the voracious appetite for flim flam & gossip dressed up as news, cleaned up and put out there in a very short space of time with very little time spent checking.

What is ironic is how this has blown up so soon since the controversy surrounding Super-injunctions was news. As we have discussed before, the stories being pursued by the red-tops were very much of the “no sex please” variety, the stories very much in the public interest were ignored.  This mind-set is very much in evidence here, and does the case for greater press freedoms no favours.

The other great irony is that this has exploded just as deliberations are due to end regarding News International’s proposed buy-out of BSkyB.  There are two on-line petitions running against this proposed sale (see the links below to 38degrees and Avaaz petitions).  I think that News International have shown themselves to be unfit for full ownership of this company.  However I think that when Jeremy Hunt announces his decision, he will announce that he has no objections to NI buying BSkyB.  He’ll fluster and bluster his way through, but the real reasons are obvious.  Cameron still owes Murdoch for The S*n’s support at the last elections.  He and Hunt wrote columns in the summer of 2009 promising to curb the BBC and to abolish OFCOM.  The BBC have been curbed, through cuts to funding.  OFCOM however survives, so the Digger probably feels that this particular chip should be cashed instead.

Yet Milliband the Younger is also tainted by association.  He has been on the attack for the past couple of days, but with all the conviction of a huffy teenager being torn away from his Playstation.  Perhaps it was the influence of his Spin Doctor, the former News International employee Tom Baldwin.  He was perfectly happy to attack Brooks – a fan of Blair – but pulled his punches today at PMQ’s.

Murdoch, Cameron, Hunt, Brooks and to a certain extent Milliband make up a powerful quintet.  All more or less would like this to go away, Cameron has already announced an inquiry – a sure-fire way to kick the subject into the long grass.  The Independent has said that this is the opportunity to curb Murdoch’s powers.  Bearing in mind how much influence Murdoch still holds which is less than what Cameron & Milliband think he has, I suspect that those two will still try to keep the Digger onside.  Things will change because of this, Brooks might be a casualty.  But as the saying goes, the more things change the more things stay the same.
Sign the petition here, or here

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Resisting The Urge To Say I Told You So

"I told you I was good at Monoply"
Private Eye has several nicknames for politicians which over time have proved to be accurate parodies of their subject.  The Grocer (Heath) and the Vicar (Blair) to go with their targets in Fleet Street Brillo-pad (Andrew Neil), Thirsty (Will Lewis, the former editor of The Daily Telegraph and News International executive who is rumoured to be Robert Peston’s source for NI stories) and Bighead for Mary Ann Sieghart.  That last one, on her appearances on Question Time, I thought was a little unfair.  Until yesterday when her column in the Independent was essentially a page saying I told you so about the Euro.

The true subject of her ire was those politicians who all thought that joining the Euro was such a good idea.  Blair, Kenneth Clarke, Mandelson, Heseltine, Clegg, Huhne and Alexander (Danny?, Douglas?) were all in her sights as she asked why, since the Euro was such a disaster none of those mentioned had felt the urge to apologise.

Yep, the arguments for the Euro were sound ones.  Conversion costs would be removed and costs would become more transparent.  However, the arguments against the Euro overshadow any advantages to joining.  Even more so since the wholesale failure of the banking system four years ago.

What is interesting though is that thinking back to the Major government, most of the prominent Euro-sceptics were on the right of the Tory party.  The main argument against entry to the Euro was that it would be a loss of sovereignty, it would see the removal of economic levers and see them transferred to Brussels/Frankfurt.  In short, we’re English we know best.  I don’t remember the economic reasoning being very high up in the mix.  The threat of monetary union being followed by political & fiscal union was being talked up (fiscal union is already with Eurozone members, witness Ireland’s treatment when they pursued their policy of aggressive Corporation Tax rates), however the arguments that bigger countries would bail out poorer countries and that some sort of external shock would hit smaller countries causing some sort of dislocation were not the arguments keenly pursued at the time.

This is ironic for two reasons.  Firstly, the first act of the next government’s (ie Blair’s first government) leading Eurosceptic (even though he never came out as one) was to remove some of those levers and hand them over, not to Frankfurt but to Threadneedle Street.  Brown was perfectly happy to remove political influence from decision making on Interest rates.

Secondly, the promoters of the Thatcher vision of Freedman economics cannot be found in the various parliaments across Europe, or in high offices.  Nope, the keenest promoters of Thatcherism in Europe are working for the European Central Bank and for the EU.  How else can you explain the list of terms & conditions attached to the Greek loan, including privatisation of their public services on a more radical scale than that attempted by Thatcher, Lawson & co in the mid 80’s, with no clause forcing tightening of their tax laws.  The Shock Doctrine is alive and well in Europe.

Sieghart’s closing shot – “How dare they sneer at us for being little Englander’s or xenophobic when we could just see that the economics were so obviously wrong” shows how much of the pre-Blair era has been forgotten.  Most of the right wing Euro-sceptics, the much praised Jimmy Fishpaste (to use another Private Eye nickname, for James Goldsmith) were perfectly happy to use rhetoric that made them look like little Englanders.  The people espousing the economic argument against entering the Euro were Tony Benn and Peter Shore, Euro-sceptic members of Harold Wilson & James Callaghan’s cabinet from 20 years previously.

Parallel to all of this is of course that the arguments about sovereignty have been re-ignited here in Scotland because of the Independence referendum, with the SNP favouring entry to the EU for an independent Scotland.  If the economics were “so obviously wrong”, no one has told the SNP.  Yet those same independence supporters who are pro-EU should really take note of what is happening across the water, not just in Greece or Ireland, but in Portugal and Spain.  The real paradox is that an independent Scotland fully signed up to the EU and the Eurozone would be too wee and too helpless to deal with the current crisis, while a fully independent Scotland outwith the EU could conceivably survive & flourish.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The End Of The SNP Bandwagon

Labour won the Inverclyde By-election on Thursday by 5,838 votes, down from the majority of over 14,000 David Cairns won by 14 months ago.  It was a bigger win than was anticipated, even though there was a swing of under 9% to the SNP.  Turnout was 45%, down by under 18% from the General Election (not great but not as bad as other By-Elections).  However once again the SNP have failed to capitalise on an opportunity presented to them by their opponents.

The centrepiece of the campaign was jobs, and both of the main candidates were promising to campaign on the platform of trying to provide jobs for a severely deprived area.  Yet the Labour candidate, Iain McKenzie ducked and dived over the activities of the Council he (now) previously led.  For he failed to give any concrete assurances that there would be no redundances at Inverclyde Council.  I suppose it's someone elses problem now.

Had this been a Holyrood by-election, I think the SNP would have won this election hands down, like they did last month.  The problem for the SNP, and this has been a problem for them since Devolution, is that they don't really have a diferent narative for Westminster elections.  They ran a good campaign, focused on job prospects of the area, and put pressure on the Labour challenger.  Yet Anne McLaughlin (or the blogger also known as Indygal) lost by a larger margin than I think she deserved.

I think what this result emphasises is that Labour have the well worked out narative that play's well in Westminster elections, and that the SNP have still to work out how to play Westminster elections.  The mantra of "It's only Labour that can stop the (evil) Tories" still resonates in terms of sending representitives to Westminster. For Holyrood elections, the exact reverse is true, that the SNP have worked out a winning narative and Labour are left floundering (as has been discussed ad nausium). 

Of course, this might all be bunkum.  That what this result has told us is that despite Salmond's claims of a new nation, when it comes to Westminster elections people in the west coast former working class areas still cling to their favourtie comfort blanket.  Rather than indicate the end of the SNP bandwagon, as McKenzie and other members of the Labour heirarchy indicated, it might have given the SNP a rather timely reality check.