Leveson and the Left, or how Ed Miliband got it wrong

Andrew Thorpe-Apps 9.02am

Lord Justice Leveson’s report, published last month, called for a new press regulatory body with “statutory underpinning”.

Lord Leveson’s proposals, if fully implemented, would remove journalists’ protection from the rigours of the Data Protection Act. They would make it near-impossible for the press to expose corruption and wrongdoing. And without a free press, we would never have heard about MPs’ expenses.

Many on the Left argued that David Cameron should follow Lord Leveson’s recommendations to the letter. After all, they exclaimed, what is the point in calling an inquiry, then ignoring its findings?

That argument is flawed. If Parliament’s job were simply to rubber-stamp the opinions of the judiciary, then what use is there in having an elected legislature? All legislative functions may as well be handed over to the chaps in wigs.

Labour’s championing of statutory regulation was nothing to do with moral principles. Nor was it for the protection of ‘ordinary people’. More than anything else, it was about retribution. Many on the Left still blame the Sun for Labour’s 1992 election defeat. The Left wants the press to feel some heat – similar to that which Labour politicians feel when they are under scrutiny. Lord Leveson has provided a golden opportunity.

During the Blair years, Labour cultivated a close relationship with the press. Alastair Campbell developed a close friendship with Rebekah Brooks. Mr Blair frequently met Rupert Murdoch and even became godfather to one of his daughters. The upshot of this was that the press focused on attacking the Conservatives. It was simply not in the Left’s interest to regulate the press.

Yet when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, newspapers switched allegiance. Mr Brown was not a winner. Labour began to get a taste of their own medicine, and the Left’s hatred of the free press boiled to the surface.

So Ed Miliband’s demand that Leveson’s recommendations be implemented ‘in full’ can now be better understood. Mr Miliband could not possibly have read the 2,000-page report from cover to cover, yet his call for full implementation suggested he agreed with every word. In reality, Mr Miliband was pandering to the majority view in his party, something we should be well used to by now.

But the Labour leader then made a U-turn in the form of a draft Bill. Suddenly, Labour was no longer in favour of ‘full implementation’ with Ofcom regulating the press. Were we finally going to hear Miliband’s own views, even if they should conflict with party big-wigs? Not a bit of it.

Labour’s draft Bill, which lacks detail, calls for the Lord Chief Justice to oversee a new regulator called the Press Standards Trust, checking every three years that it is working effectively. Publications that refuse to sign up to the regulator would have higher damages awarded against them should they lose court cases.

The draft Bill, which was discussed in cross-party talks yesterday, represents ‘statutory underpinning’ by stealth. It is a fudge, designed to keep all sides happy, and it speaks volumes of Mr Miliband’s inability to nail his colours to the mast.

The Conservatives want a system of independent self-regulation with severe penalties for wrongdoing but without statutory regulation. David Cameron rightly argues that regulation is a screw that will only get tightened:

"Once you start drafting a law that is a statutory underpinning, you find you have effectively created a Press Bill. It may not have that much which is frightening in it. But it becomes a very easily amendable piece of work, which is why we should try and avoid it."

Labour’s draft Bill does offer a ‘guarantee’ of press freedom, but it is difficult to see how this is feasible with even limited statutory regulation. The press is either free or it isn’t – there is no ‘third way’.

Mr Miliband has blindly followed the Left’s predictable response to the Leveson Report. The press is viewed as a rabid hound that must be tethered. It is of course  Mr Miliband’s prerogative to follow advice and even to change his mind; but it reflects poorly on his leadership. It backs up what we have learnt about Ed – he is a follower, not a leader. He frequently calls for inquiries, and when the results are in, is prepared to support all recommendations without hesitation.

The Left have had the press in their sights for some time. Lord Leveson’s report was labelled a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity long before it was even published. It has exposed the Left’s resentment and fear of a press that is free to scrutinise. It has also shown why Ed Miliband must never be given the keys to Number 10.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @AG_ThorpeApps

Press freedom, or press responsibility? It is time we checked the most powerful organisations in Britain

Giles Marshall 9.50am

Eight-six MPs and peers have signed a letter urging David Cameron not to accept any recommendation for statutory oversight of the press, should such be made by Lord Leveson in his much anticipated report.

In many ways it is encouraging that so many legislators, themselves often the target of press attacks, should be so concerned about what they have termed an issue of free speech. They are right in wanting to steer clear of political control of any media outlet. Yet the issue for the British press is no longer really one of free speech; it is one of responsibility.

The Leveson Inquiry’s exhaustive hearings unearthed example after example of astonishing abuse of press power. This wasn’t simply the willingness of some newspapers to use illegal methods to obtain information; it was also their relentless commitment to the harassment and persecution of those who they decided, often on a whim or on the barest of hard knowledge, to victimise.

Famous examples of non-celebrity figures include the McCanns and Chris Jefferies, but they were hardly the first. There have been many more low-profile examples. The stories of Juliet Shaw and an innocent deputy headmistress, both caught up in the Daily Mail’s tangled web of media ethics, serve as a reminder of just what happens when there isn’t a major inquiry into the conduct of the press.

The Sun managed to identify an innocent man as a paedophile and never produced an apology, so weak is the current system of press regulation. There are plentiful, regular examples of how an out of control press - particularly the tabloids - smear people’s reputations with no requirement to apologise or make restitution when they are proved - as they so often are - wrong. The intrusion of the press into private lives continues unabated. The best observation of press antics comes at the moment from heroic blogs such as Tabloid Watch and The Media Blog, which makes depressing reading.

The MPs who signed the letter today rightly consider that the ability of the press to investigate political and commercial interests without fear or favour should be unhindered. Agreed.

The problem is that it so often doesn’t. It isn’t MPs or political interests who require the defence of a proper system of regulatory control. It is the little people, the small people’s interests, who urgently require this support. The very people MPs should be representing and whose interests they should be considering. It is in some ways astonishing that the eighty-six signatories of today’s letter have been so willing to leap to the defence of powerful, vested media interests, but have remained mute when ordinary people have been victims of press abuse.

Then again, many politicians mix freely with owners, editors and reporters. Mr Cameron’s friendship with Rebekah Brooks; Michael Gove’s past employment with Rupert Murdoch’s Times; Boris Johnson’s present employment with the Barclay twins’ Daily Telegraph; Jeremy Hunt’s cringeworthy emails and texts to a senior aide of the Murdoch corporation - all these relationships betoken an unhealthy danse macabre that wholly fails to protect us from a rampaging, lazy, abusive press.

The Guardian has published a poll finding today suggesting that 79 per cent of the public want a powerful regulatory body to control the press. It would be difficult to find an issue on which there is such variance between our representatives and ourselves.

Preventing the press from publishing untrue statements that irreparably damage people’s lives is not the same - nowhere near - as political control and it is a pity that today’s letter’s signatories don’t realise this.

It was Stanley Baldwin many years ago - using a comparison possibly offered to him by his cousin Rudyard Kipling - who noted that the press “have great power without any responsibility. The prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”

Too much of the British media has failed to show even the slightest hint of willingness to regulate themselves. It is time they were subject to the same strictures as every other organisation in this country, for they wield the greatest power, and power should never be allowed to go unchecked.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesmarshall

Big game week on Lord Justice Leveson’s savannah

Nik Darlington 9.28am

The Leveson sideshow is on its way out of town after a stage run of more than 6 months. The press, to varying extents, has afforded the inquiry an importance it probably does not deserve, which is odd considering Lord Justice Leveson’s quarry is the press itself.

This week is ‘big game’ week, when the elephants, rhinos and other titans of the animal kingdom sit in the cross-hairs of the wooden inquisitor, Robert Jay QC.

Yesterday brought a rare sight indeed. Pine martens are seen in public more often these days than Gordon Brown, hidden away as they are in their Scottish refuge. I can drag this analogy further still. Pine martens are said to be reducing Britain’s population of invasive grey squirrels. The Murdochs are not grey squirrels, but for many they have an invasive characteristic; and Mr Brown grumbled into the hearing yesterday with one thing in mind, to eradicate the miserable memory of the Murdoch press.

I have enormous sympathy with Mr Brown for the coverage of his son’s cystic fibrosis. It was a reprehensible and unprofessional act by the NHS worker(s) who passed on the sensitive information to the Sun. And it was a despicable editorial decision by Rebekah Brooks’ to publish the story. On the front page. We have no reason to disbelieve Mr Brown’s assertion that he and his wife were presented with little more than a fait accompli by the Sun's editor.

But an innocent bystander in the vicious briefing wars that beset Tony Blair’s premiership and his? Gordon Brown is pulling a fast one of the highest order.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, also appeared yesterday, with an air of such relaxed insouciance to be bordering on blasé. The only moments of uneasiness centred on questions to do with his relationship with Andrew Coulson, whom Mr Osborne had a big hand in hiring, though even then he was let off lightly.

Today we have an appearance from the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, who I’m sure shall enlighten Lord Leveson with his sycophantic tailcoat trailing at smug News International cocktail parties.

We will also be hearing from another, greatly more respected, former prime minister, Sir John Major. If Gordon Brown is the leopard that never changes his spots (he might look like a grey elephant these days, but on yesterday’s evidence his memory is not up to a pachyderm’s exacting standards), then Sir John is the august old lion, long retired but still surveying the field.

You don’t have to be much in the know to know that Sir John Major has some very strong views about the role of the press. Who wouldn’t after the treatment unfairly dealt to him during the 1990s? It is unlikely to add anything of material note to the Leveson Inquiry’s proceedings - more colour than censure - but it could be one of the more fascinating sessions of one of the more miserable political inquiries.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

For everyone’s sake, we can’t allow the BBC’s media monopoly to persist

Craig Barrett 6.00am

A few weeks ago I was reading the newspapers in my local pub when I noticed on one of the blackboards the message “Sunday papers - no Murdoch”. On departing, I took great care to leave behind my Sunday Times, prominently displayed for anyone else who wished to read it.

This was in the midst of the phone hacking scandal and after the closure of the News of the World, but the pub’s targeting came as something of a surprise. I had believed that most people in the real world were not interested because they were fairly certain that such tactics had been employed all along. The whole thing seemed a ploy by the media’s Murdoch-loathing elements to send the might News International army well and truly off course, so preventing the total takeover of BSkyB. The BBC and the Guardian certainly gave the story much more prominence than the rest.

Something still jarred me. The BBC complained about a potential media monopoly, conveniently ignoring its own near total dominance of news in this country. The BBC has 70 per cent of news viewers (up from 60 per cent in 2002), as compared to 18 per cent for ITV, 6 per cent for Sky and 4 per cent for Channel 4 (encouragingly, Ofcom is launching an investigation into this).

For all its claims of independence, the BBC has long propounded a left-leaning agenda and is swift to criticise anything done by the Conservative party or to downplay bad behaviour from the Labour party. Too often this is dismissed as mere hysteria but a quick scan of Peter Sissons’ memoirs shows that what many of us have always suspected is, in fact, correct.

I can also cite another former BBC employee caused total astonishment amongst her colleagues when she announced in 2008 that she was voting for Boris Johnson rather than Ken Livingstone.

The BBC claims to be independent but it manifestly is not. It complains about monopolies because of a dislike of one man yet revels in its own domination. It likes to behave like a commerical organisation but rests easy on the comfort of licence fee income.

The best recent example of this is the schedulers’ decision to screen the final series of Spooks at 9.00pm on a Sunday. If I recall correctly, Spooks had always aired on Monday evenings. Why the change? It cannot be mere coincedence that ITV’s flagship show, Downton Abbey, this weekend returned to its regular 9.00pm Sunday evening slot.

When there were three channels, ITV’s position as the terrestrial broadcaster with adverts was secure. The ‘market’ was such that it didn’t matter if there was a ratings war - advertisers only had one place to go. Nowadays, satellite and digital broadacsting have forced ITV into an increasingly weakened position. Too many channels are chasing too few advertisers. At one stage, ITV was in such a bad state that it was ripe for takeover (by BSkyB). If we believe City rumours, ITV put in place funding arrangements with its syndicate of banks to borrow enough to give shareholders a dividend, thus bribing them to reject any bid.

The BBC is immune to all these trials and tribulations because of its guaranteed income from licence fee payers and taxpayers. As Jeremy Paxman said in 2007:

"The idea of a tax on the ownership of a televsion belongs in the 1950s. Why not tax people for owning a washing machine to fund the manufacture of Persil?"

Last year, licence fee revenue comprised £3.513 billion out of the BBC’s total income of £4.993 billion, generating a surplus (what in the real world we call profit) of £483 million. ITV’s turnover was £2.064 billion, generating a pre-tax profit of £286 million. ITV has net debts of £188 million and its bonds are rated as sub-investment grade, which affects its ability to attract funding.

Needless to say, with billions of pounds of public money at its disposal the BBC has no such difficulties. Even the BBC’s “other income” is three-quarters of ITV’s total.

The BBC is happy to sell programmes abroad for hard cash. It is happy to have adverts on some of its channels (Dave, GOLD, Yesterday etc, which are all part-owned by the BBC). It is happy to make commerical sales and acquisitions (e.g. Radio Times and Lonely Planet). Yet the BBC insists on maintaining an antediluvian public service persona.

The BBC cannot have things both ways. Either it accepts that it is a commercial organisation and we remove the licence fee subsidy; or it accepts the fact that its special status skews and damages the competitive marketplace.

It does not have to screen its best programmes in the middle of the night but the BBC should avoid making calculated decisions to harm its less fortunate rivals. Every time the BBC sparks a ratings war, rivals are forced to work that bit harder to make up the ground. Each ratings fall makes it more difficult to attract advertising and funding for new content - all problems that the BBC doesn’t face.

If the BBC is permitted to abuse its position in this way, the result will be the crowding out of competition. Conservatives should be ensuring that the market is allowed to operate efficiently.

Sunday night’s ratings do suggest it was Spooks that lost out to Downton Abbey. Good news for ITV, but a rare battle won.

In a marketplace perverted by a publicly subsidised broadcaster, the longer war is one that commerical TV cannot win.

Follow Craig on Twitter @MrSteedUK

I’m starting to think that Charles Moore might be right, but not quite

Nik Darlington 6.00am

Last April and May I helped out with a number of campaigns for Conservative candidates. I walked sundry streets, knocked on multitudinous front doors in monotonous suburbs and breathless tower blocks, and dispensed more leaflets than my ecological conscience should allow.

This sort of bromidic activity affords plenty of time for thinking; and as I turned down yet another Park Road, past yet more Fiestas and Astras, admiring yet more outlandishly individual house numbers, I thought, ‘what if we are wrong?’

I had observed so much of the national argument, the local conversations, the doorstep debates; I had trotted out innumerable lines and attempted to rebut innumerable opposing views. We were right and they were wrong. Weren’t we?

But what if the other side - Labour or Liberal Democrat, depending on the battleground - was actually right? I surmised that in the grand scheme of political discourse, they could just as plausibly be as right as us. Whoever wins a democratic election, such as we have in the UK, is not de facto right about the situation at the time; however, the winner is just believed to be right by the greatest amount of people (or the greatest critical mass of people under our system) at that particular snapshot in time. The Labour party was right in 1997, 2001 and (less so) in 2005. The Conservative party was sort of right in 2010 but not right enough about enough of the things that mattered to people to be considered right enough to run the country alone.

To cut a stream of consciousness short, I was asking myself the same sort of questions Charles Moore was in the Telegraph last week. In a marvellously honest article, which instantly sent Twitter a-flutter with left-wing triumphalism, Lady Thatcher’s official biographer stated, “I’m starting to think that the Left might actually be right”.

The essence of Moore’s malaise is that free markets are not supreme. In the 1970s and 1980s, the renaissance of the ‘Right’ was founded on the (correct) understanding that militantly organised labour was holding people back, particularly in Britain: “bad jobs were protected and good ones could not be created”. That argument was won by Margaret Thatcher, consolidated by John Major and built upon by Tony Blair.

However, Moore contends that after the credit crunch “Everything is Different Now”. We put our faith in free financial markets to drive the debt bubbles which offered home ownership, fancy holidays and material goods we couldn’t afford. The Right’s cry was for deregulation and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (who for these purposes Moore considers the ‘Right’) happily obliged. “And [then] the banks that look after our money take it away, lost it and then, because of government guarantee, are not punished themselves.” The Left were right, says Moore, “that a system purporting to advance the many has been perverted in order to enrich the few.”

Similarly, the scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, whose contagion is bound to spread, has thrown into stark light the truth of what the Left said all along, “that the power of Rupert Murdoch had become an anti-social force.” Cast aside for a moment the fact that Moore is a Telegraph hack who has never muck-raked in the Murdoch stables (it is a facet of his rage, but only a small one). What has the scandal shown? Indeed, it has shown “how an international company has bullied and bought its way to control of party leaderships, police forces and regulatory processes”. It was not the hallowed work of market forces that defeated the print unions at Wapping. Something Moore doesn’t point out in his article is that the Murdoch newspaper empire was built in Britain in contradiction to market forces. Apart from the tabloids, his papers don’t make money. If it were not for Rupert Murdoch, The Times and Sunday Times would have died in 1981. I am glad that those fine newspapers survived but what was that Moore wrote about ‘good jobs’ and ‘bad jobs’?

Moving on, Moore is right to say that conservatism in America has become ‘shrill’. Exhibit A: the ongoing budget squabble in Washington. He is also right to point fingers at European leaders during this eurozone crisis, as “workers…must lose their jobs in Porto and Piraeus…so that bankers in Frankfurt and bureaucrats in Brussels may sleep easily in their beds.”

In fact, as I got to the end of the article, I was nodding and starting to think that Charles Moore might be right about most of this. It is a shame that after such an honest article Moore closes with a prayer that “conservatism will be saved, as has so often been the case in the past, by the stupidity of the Left”. This is the same tribal antipathy that I discussed earlier. You are wrong, and I am right. I just don’t believe that it works like that. Even if it does, trusting victory in your opponent’s stupidity shows little faith in your own abilities, does it not?

What was forgotten in the 1980s was that there needs to be investment in universal education, healthcare and other public services to accompany market reforms. Allowing the free market to run its course - deleting ‘bad jobs’ and allowing the creation of ‘good jobs’ - was fine as long as working people were able to switch to the new economy. Training and opportunities in industrial communities were inadequate or non-evident, resulting in years of unemployment and/or welfare dependancy (you decide the ‘at best’ and ‘at worst’). Only now is this Government getting to grips with the problem.

In ascribing right and wrong, the past thirty years has not so much seen the Left be right, rather on some very big issues the Right has been wrong - or at best neglectful. In assuming the rampant drive for efficiency, the Right forgot about compassion. As TRG founder Lord Walker said, to help those most in need, we must combine efficiency with compassion. The strong policies of David Cameron’s government on the likes of welfare reform, the NHS, international aid, and even the ‘big society’ are promising signs that Mr Moore’s pessimistic analysis of the ‘Right’ is only partially true and is more retrospective than current.

But yes, because of an indiscriminate deference to the market, the press and the financial markets were allowed to run out of control, industries were run down without anywhere else to go, and a dash for consumption took place. Efficiency became a dogma and we are seeing how an intransigent attachment to this dogma is badly affecting policymaking in the USA and Europe at the moment. The Left are right, as Charles Moore said, that the free market can be “a set-up”; but many people on the Right have been saying this for years too.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

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As Parliament rises, it’s time to clear this media circus out of town

Jack Blackburn  8.50am

For more than two weeks, the phone hacking and police corruption scandal has rumbled on and on. This week, Parliament has taken centre stage as it challenged Kevin Spacey and David Tennant for the title of ‘hottest ticket in town’. The very serious questions first raised by the scandal have all but vanished amidst the nonsense of this third week of coverage. It is time for the furore to quieten and due process to be observed. As the summer recess begins, it is time for the circus to clear out of town.

The first matter of great importance is establishing what happened at News of the World, the general state of Britain’s press, and what ought to be done as a consequence. This is all now the subject of an independent inquiry and ongoing police investigations. Yesterday, Parliament could do little else useful than shout about it.

The second matter is the position of the Met specifically and the British police in general, and establishing the extent of their inappropriate relationship with the press. Again, this is all being investigated. For the time being, both matters are in hand.

Note the absence of the conditional conjunction “if”, because this is not ‘news’, nor has it been for the better part of a decade, since Rebekah Brooks (or Wade, as she then was) told a parliamentary committee that News International had paid officers for stories. Funnily enough, this raised eyebrows but was quickly brushed aside without much attention given. The Labour government didn’t seem too concerned.

In fact, the last Labour government wasn’t concerned about a lot of things then that the current Labour opposition seem to be distraught by now. They weren’t concerned about Rupert Murdoch’s apparent ‘monopoly’, or hacking in general, despite what Gordon ‘The Silent Crusader’ Brown has said. Now, Ed Miliband and his MPs are up in arms about matters that they and former colleagues did nothing about when they had the chance. From the way they talk about it all, one might have thought that David Cameron had been in Number 10 for a full term, not fourteen months.

There is a third matter, which Mr Cameron addressed in his House of Commons statement yesterday: himself. His personal connection. Yet what personal connection? No one has claimed (not explicitly) that the Prime Minister has any connection with this scandal other than his relationship with News International as a politician, his personal relationship with Rebekah Brooks, and his employment of Andy Coulson.

If the first relationship, with News International, is a problem, then why is mud not being slung at Tony Blair or Gordon Brown? Murdoch Sr went into some length on Tuesday about his friendship with Brown, talking of the closeness of their families and his sadness at their estrangement. It is absurd to suggest that Rebekah Brooks’ personal relationship with the PM (whom she described on Tuesday as a ‘neighbour and a friend’, which seems pretty reasonable) is very different from the relationship between Murdoch and Brown.

The third relationship, with Coulson, is an example of political and professional misjudgement. The callow Prime Minister made a bad error - but it did not bring down his Government. In fact, it didn’t do any real harm to his Government at all. Rather to the contrary, as Mr Cameron has pointed out, there have been no complaints about Andy Coulson’s professional work for the Government. What he has allegedly done outside of government is appalling, however it could be argued that Alastair Campbell did more in a similar job to damage the reputation of the government he served. The hiring of Andy Coulson is not a resignation matter for David Cameron and it was foolish to suggest otherwise.

Nevertheless, the cacophony will continue. Lord Kinnock describes his ludicrous ideas about legislating for a ‘balanced press’. Ed Miliband keeps trying to keep the scandal going as the elixir of his political life - yesterday he was bounced into publishing his own media meetings. Meanwhile, the public gains nothing. We learn nothing. The time for revelations is largely over, the time of investigation is beginning, yet all we have is a points-scoring pandemonium whipped up by politicians and journalists.

The Prime Minister’s statement yesterday was confident, determined and thorough. It dealt with the issues and set out clearly what is being done. Mr Miliband’s response was desperate; as the Conservative party’s deputy chairman said, he is flogging a dead horse.

Fetch the gun: that horse must be put out of its misery. As Parliament rises gratefully for the summer, there are no further legitimate questions for it to ask. Let due process resume.

Follow Jack on Twitter @BlackburnJA

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Murdoch & Son before the Committee of Lilliput

Giles Marshall 6.12pm

By two hours into possibly the most anticipated Commons Committee meeting of all time, there had appeared one political star, two very canny businessmen and a collection of distinctly moderate political apparatchiks. Anyone hoping for either real drama, or a forensic unveiling of the truth as to the Murdochs’ involvement in the scandal that has afflicted their newspaper empire, will have been sorely disappointed. Until, that is, an unheralded member of the public attempted to launch a shaving foam pie at Rupert Murdoch, prompting a spot of vigilantism from Mrs. Murdoch. If the police have felt under pressure from the News of the World fall-out, today’s showcase of protestors and common assaulters in the heart of Westminster will have done little to renew their cause.

The one political star of any sort, as had been anticipated, was Labour’s Tom Watson, a man who has made chasing down the Murdochs something of an obsessive political aim. Had he grandstanded, or tried to make speeches, or shouted at them, or sought to make smart comments, he would undoubtedly have failed. Watson was, fortunately, too clever an operator to make any of these novice errors. He chose unanswerable questions, and directed them firmly at the man he perceived to be the weak link – not the younger, much criticised James Murdoch, but the elderly personification of tabloid might, Rupert Murdoch himself.

Asked about the notorious accused blackmailer, News of the World reporter Neville Thurlbeck, Rupert Murdoch claimed ignorance. “I’ve never heard of him” he said, as he apparently struggled to hear some of Watson’s carefully aimed questions. Watson’s theme was that Murdoch senior was responsible for the ‘corporate governance’ of the company, and as such was a legitimate target for close questioning. It was a good line, not least because Murdoch junior was desperate to interpolate himself into Watson’s questions, and was as consistently rebutted. It was probably the only time that Rupert Murdoch appeared uncomfortable, or seemed not to have a grasp of the British arm of his empire. As Watson pursued his line of questioning about precisely why Rupert let illegality carry on in his company, the elder Murdoch fell back upon acknowledging that the News of the World was such a small part of his business enterprise – less than 1 per cent – that he could hardly be expected to know anything that was going on there.

Well, this less than 1 per cent has brought the Murdochs to their knees, has forced their supplication before a body they once mightily disdained, and produced Rupert’s comment that this was the most humble day of his career.

Perhaps it was. It certainly wasn’t the most illuminating though. Watson may have brought Rupert the closest to uncomfortable that he was ever going to get – custard pies notwithstanding – but his fellow MPs largely failed to rise to the task. When veteran committee member Alan Keen is reduced to asking how a Sunday paper works, and trying to suggest that his ‘expertise’ is in engineering, you know something’s amiss.

It was right that the Murdochs appeared here today. Sometimes they were made to look uncomfortable. For the most part they performed an elaborate ‘mea culpa’ without admitting any wrongdoing, or any direct knowledge of wrongdoing. They can be pleased with their afternoon’s work. The real illumination awaits not our elected legislators, it would appear, but an unelected judge with perhaps more firepower at his disposal. This is far from over.

Follow Giles on Twitter @GilesMarshall

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Police questioning needed

Alexander Pannett 6.45am

The shock of the phone hacking scandal has twisted into a new Hydra’s head with the revelation that Sir Paul Stephenson, the head of the Met police, had hired Neil Wallis, a former News of the World deputy editor known as “The Wolfman”, as a PR consultant in 2009.  This was at a time of much public acclaim for the police to re-open inquiries into the alleged hacking.  Sir Paul’s resignation yesterday will not be enough to silence the serious questions that have been raised over the Met’s recent conduct.

This scandal is only the latest in a catalogue of mishaps that arose under Sir Paul Stephenson’s stewardship that saw the police become far too cosy with the both the previous Labour administration and the media.  The police were very happy to bite for their political masters when allegations of Home Office leaks saw Damien Green, the then Shadow Immigration Minister, arrested and his offices in the Houses of Parliament searched.  At the time, it was unprecedented for an MP to be arrested and his office searched by police in connection with a leak inquiry.

 The police were also strong advocates of the insidious attempt by Labour to extend detention to ninety days for terrorist suspects.  Andy Hayman, Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, wrote to the Home Secretary in 2005 to express his view that 90 days was required.  At the time it was even alleged that the police and Labour were working closely together as senior Chief Constables wished to keep their jobs after plans to cut the number of Constabularies in the United Kingdom from 43 down to around 9.

Now that the Faustian pact between the media, Labour and the police has been exposed, it is highly disturbing to consider that such momentous assualts on British liberty and Parliamentary democracy may not have been driven by concern for the safety of British citizens but by the need to satisfy a tabloid populist agenda.  Like the three blind witches of Macbeth, these three culprits had but one eye to see the world and unfortunately that eye belonged to Murdoch.

The Murdoch press has been allowed to shape the lexicon of law and order.  It has corrupted and encouraged the police to forget that they serve the people.  Laws gain their authority not from obedience but from the recognition of that authority by the people.  If the agents of the law are not transparent or accountable, then how can the people recognise what they stand for.  From dubious kettling tactics to the nefarious shooting of an innocent on a tube, it is time the police re-affirmed both its independence and its obligation to uphold the liberties and democratic values that underpin our society.  The police must clean out its tainted parts and put more emphasis on observance of the law rather than its Kafkaesque enforcement.

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