Wed May 9th, 2012 at 08:02:39 PM EST
Ten days ago Rupert and James Murdoch were brought up before the Leveson inquiry, and the fallout is still echoing round the British political system. The thing that fired it off was the three days of evidence given by Rupert and James. In amongst this was a shot across the bows of the Cameron government, a selection of emails between News International's chief lobbyist and various others, detailing contacts between the lobbyist and the government department involved in adjudicating the control of the UK Media Market, and hence the monopoly situation on the BskyB ownership.
Now these emails were produced as part of Rupert's evidence, so the lobbyist was asked for his own statement, which was read into evidence without him being questioned and in there he claimed that although the emails said that he had discussed these things with the minister, he had in fact been talking to his underlings. At the same time having had this whole affair suddenly exposed, the government panicked, sacked the government advisor who was involved, and tried to claim he was acting outside his authority.
Now this whole situation seems at best dubious. We are expected to believe that
- A special advisor has decided to run his own media policy
- A man who has risen to be News International's chief lobbyist is a fantasist, who had risen through the ranks at the time when they were listening to everybody's phone messages.
- The minister wasn't on top of what was going on in his department
- Neither of the two managements, who met regularly, noticed this or mentioned it
- The email trail is false.
Now you can see one of these occurring, but all five? That stretches credulity to a point way beyond breaking. And although it is an approach that might work with compliant media, you would have to think that high court judges are made of sterner stuff (and judging from some of the pointed questions that he has asked and recipients haven't quite understood, Lord Leveson appears to have a mind like a steel trap)
The next problem that occurred is Nadine Dorries, who appeared on local TV news to say that Cameron and Osbourne were "posh boys who didn't know the price of milk". Now there are many Tory MPs who feel constrained by the coalition agreement, but she probably feels betrayed after both the collapse of her abortion time bill and the oh so subtle removal of her seat in the upcoming restructuring. And having had the carrot of re-selection removed, probably is feeling a certain lack of restraint.
Immediately after this we have the report of the Culture Media and Sport Committee on phone hacking, the Conservative members of the Committee have firmly nailed their party's colours to the Murdoch mast. It was an opportunity for Cameron to demonstrate strength and leadership, however instead of coming out strongly, he allowed the party's position to be dictated by Louise Mensch, a backbench politician and committee member. It may be that this is down to Cameron taking his eye off the ball as he is busy preparing for his own appearance before Lord Leveson.
Following on from this we then have the local elections. The Conservative Party lost 1/3 of its seats, their coalition partners lost approaching half of theirs. The economy, and a vision that they are both uncaring and callous and a view that they are irretrievably entangled with the Murdoch affair has not helped them. The right of the party came out strongly in response, suggesting that the reason that people hadn't in fact voted was disgust that some more liberal social policies were being followed (the party just wasn't cracking down on the poor and homosexuals hard enough) and the voters would have just loved them all if there had been more tax cuts and reductions in government services to pay for this. Now normally this would just be laughed off but, it was noted that two seperate factions of the right appeared to be joining together in common cause, putting aside their individual leadership ambitions, so it may show that Dorries is pushing in a direction that more than one politician inside the party is willing to head.
Then on Friday the Government really appeared to panic. Their lawyers approached Lord Leveson and requested Core Participant status. Core participants are those people who are heavily involved, victims, or likely to be criticised in the final report. Core participants get to see the evidence before the general public, so they are in a position to keep the Inquiry moving, they also get to request redactions of evidence and to put questions to witnesses through the Inquiry's lawyers.
Initially Lord L refused on the grounds that the government is not included in the groups that are allowed such status, when the rules were drawn up it was not seen that the government might come under such widespread pressure under such a blaze of publicity. His Lordship also announced that they would not be asking for any redactions as there were virtually no grounds that they would be agreed to.
Now to me this list seems somewhat odd: of the eight we have Jeremy Hunt, who already has had all the damaging details presented as evidence already. It would only make sense for him to be on the list if he thinks that there is more to come out, otherwise it's too little, too late. Next on the list is Nick Clegg, who has been presenting himself as un-contacted, although that is thought to relate to a lack of value in him for Murdoch, rather than anything else. So you would have to think there is no reason for him to be on the list. After that we have Vince Cable, the man who "Went to war with Murdoch", you have to think he wasn't on their Christmas card list either in any way that would need the attentions of his Lordship. George Osbourne is only giving evidence in writing, and hasn't been summoned to appear, so you would think that nothing contentious has been presented about him (although that is something that is making people boggle to a very large extent). In the past two weeks, William Hague and Michael Gove have been out supporting the Murdochs, so you would think nothing is about to come out about them. Kenneth Clarke has been under attack for not being right wing enough, so you wouldn't think that he hasn't had enough contact. That only leaves two people, Theresa May, who you might think has been treating attacks on the Human Rights Act as a personal hobby horse. Lord Leveson might wish to ask if there is any connection between this and the tabloid press general distaste of the act, what with its troubling privacy right which might impact on their business methods, but even then that seems minor, and probably fully legal and above board. So having run through the current mob that only leaves Dave with anything that might cause problems. Have all the others just signed up to act as cover for the Prime Minister's panic so he owes them one?
After the initial legal OK to these ministers standing, there was an outburst of outrage, and a variety of campaigners appealed, and Lord Leveson announced that any attempted redactions would be announced. Which no doubt didn't go down well in the Cameron household. The Government responded by announcing that they would not be asking for any redactions.
This morning we had the Queen's speech, to open a new session of parliament. It was widely seen as poor, lacking in any drive and looking like something to come from a failing government. Right-wing comentators and party members seem to think there was very little in it for them, which can only increase the unrest within the party.
And so we come to the next few days. Tomorrow afternoon we get Andy Coulson up in front of the Inquiry. As usual there will be a range of things that cannot be asked. We will steer clear of phone hacking and who did what when. We will probably also steer well clear of any suggestion of perjury in the Tommy Sherridan case, as either has the risk of jeopardising the on-going investigations and from there any possible court cases that may emerge from the investigation.
The main details that will be involved will be his deals with Number 10 and News International after his leaving the News of the World. How he came to have such a low level of background checks, even though he had left his previous job under a cloud (if this is at the request of the Prime Minister then it's going to cause chaos).
Then on Friday we have a full day with Rebekah Brooks. There are rumours of major bombshells to come on this day, none of which can be good for Cameron.
Best thing to read about this is probably this article:
The Woman Who Could Bring Down Cameron - The Daily Beast
In the spring of 2010, Paul McMullan found himself staking out a hoof-marked riding trail alongside some woodland near the country mansion of Rebekah Brooks, his former boss. A veteran Fleet Street journalist who'd spent much of his career at the notorious News of the World tabloid, McMullan was now hunting for a front-page shot: Brooks, one of Britain's most powerful press players, on horseback alongside David Cameron, the man many pegged as its next prime minister.
So the coming weekend may see the whole thing come apart. Coalition crumbling, Dave resigning. (It's reported that Kelvin Mackenzie, a former tabloid editor, has bet £1,000 he'd be gone before Christmas.) If this results in a new election, the coalition parties will be starting from the worst place possible.