Saturday, July 30, 2011 

Soul is born through pain.

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Friday, July 29, 2011 

Every day is like Sunday.

Rough cut of a new Adam Curtis docu centring on the downfall of a different press baron over here.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011 

Hacking someone who didn't need to be hacked.

There's something about Sara Payne also being in Glenn Mulcaire's phone hacking files that just doesn't ring (groan) quite right. After all, the relationship between Payne and Brooks was so close that it seems incredibly doubtful that she would have hidden anything from the News of the World that could have then been turned into a story. Moreover, unlike with some of the other relatives of murder victims the Sun and the News of the World have supported, with Payne it was clear who was supporting whom, with there being no apparent ulterior motive. Sure, the whole Sarah's law campaign was a great sales driver for the paper, but it was also one which Brooks wholly believed in. While it's difficult not to be suspicious that some of what Brooks told the media committee last week wasn't the whole truth, when it comes to Payne you suspect her anguish and discomfort is genuine, even if Private Eye's story on Brooks calling Payne in to the NotW offices on a favour is accurate.

If her phone was hacked, and it's a massive if considering that an ex-NotW PR is saying Payne didn't even have voicemail on the phone provided by the paper until 2009, then the most likely explanation seems to be it was the rivalry between the Sun and the NotW while the latter was being edited by Andy Coulson. After all, as Brooks herself keeps reminding us, her phone was among those hacked by Mulcaire, one suspects in an attempt by the NotW to nab any exclusives which were being worked on by the Sun without Brooks letting on to her close friend Andy. Otherwise, and bearing in mind that Paul McMullan isn't the most reliable witness, it's not completely out of the question that Mulcaire simply had it in case lazy NotW hacks couldn't be bothered finding it themselves, especially seeing he was the go-between for so much else. However out of control the NotW was under Coulson, hacking someone who didn't need to be hacked just doesn't seem to fit.

P.S. If for some strange masochistic reason you want to peruse a further discussion of my intellectually lightweight thoughts on Breivik, yesterday's post was also featured over at Lib Con.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011 

Anders Breivik: a fascist?

(This is the reply I've posted to Unity's excellent Breivik and fascism - a lesson from George Orwell. As it's long enough and I'm feeling slightly lazy I'm reposting it here, with a few slight additions and tweaks, as well as links and citations.)

Much as I agree with the vast majority of this, I think the main problem with accurately labelling Breivik is that as yet we haven't come up with a convincing catch-all term for the new far right which on the surface eschews racism but which underneath is just as virulent in its hatred of those with brown skin as the fascists and neo-Nazis we're all familiar with. Scratch beneath Breivik's anti-racist façade and you find the same old tropes, i.e. as in the way he exclusively blames "Muslims" for the crime in Oslo (page 1392 of his "manifesto"), just as the EDL and those associated with it have banged on about "Muslims" being in control of the drug trade in various cities, as if religion has anything whatsoever to do with it.

This is why I think he personally has more in common with Tim McVeigh than any previous European terror group or individual. McVeigh was a fan of the Turner Diaries and a known racist, but he was further radicalised by the Waco and Ruby Ridge sieges. Coupled with the then highly en vogue "new world order" conspiracy theories, he decided to strike back against the US federal government.

Breivik instead found his inspiration mainly from the hysterical far-right, convinced that pure Muslim demographics mean that Europe is doomed. He combined this with the utterly bizarre conspiracy theory that the Frankfurt school of Marxist social theorists have somehow managed to influence politicians of both mainstream right and left into imposing state multiculturalism and political correctness onto their people without their consent. Into the mix also came the "anti-jihadist" bloggers and other assorted right-wing figures, both American and European, Pam Geller and Geert Wilders (page 1407) to name but two, all of whom he came to believe were simply not going to achieve anything through democratic politics, so convinced of the control the "cultural Marxists" have over everything. Only he, or rather his almost certainly imaginary group, can start off the war by killing not Muslims, although he includes them in his list of "prioritised targets" (page 921), but instead hitting the multiculturalists themselves. In this he shares the "awakening" belief of many other terrorists before him, that through one spectacular act he can both raise awareness among those of like minds that they can personally do something, and also hopefully provoke the authorities into so overreacting that they make things worse, the same trap the West walked into after 9/11.

While I won't demure from the fact that his dream Europe would be a very old-fashioned totalitarian place, with the media controlled and patriarchy mandated (heh), he also proposes the on the surface completely incongruous idea of "liberal zones" (page 1168), where those who wish to live "Sex and the City" lifestyles can do so, as long as they are cut off "ideologically" from the rest of society to avoid "cultural contamination". Not many fascists would be willing to offer an apparent safe haven from their policies, especially when so many would obviously consider things to be far more pleasant there.

Apart from being a mess of contradictions then, he's a fascist of the very latest school, albeit one who unlike the EDL has fully pseudo-intellectualised his actions and gone from viewing all Muslims as being bent on world domination, even if indirectly, to killing those he believes are enabling them. The wags over at Blood and Treasure suggested, with tongue firmly in cheek, that he could be viewed as the military wing of Melanie Phillips. In my view, he's best compartmentalised as a 21st century European white nationalist, who while others talked decided to act, by murdering the "friends" of his enemies. And with that, we perhaps ought to stop considering the ravings of a lone lunatic, however much insight he might give into current far-right thinking.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011 

Still running on fumes.

It's a gentle, fragile thing the new British economy. The old cliché used to be that when America sneezed, the rest of the world caught a cold. We do things differently now. Unexpected, truly world-shattering events like the sun deciding to beat down in April meant that instead of 0.7% growth between April and June, we instead got 0.2%. Just in case the Office of National Statistics, which is getting very good at coming up with excuses for ministers, having previously blamed the snow for the economy flat-lining in the last quarter of last year, felt that wouldn't wash with many people, it also pointed towards the Japanese earthquake, which it's true did have a knock-on effect on manufacturing, with some production lines here having to temporarily shut down, and the Royal wedding, which had much less of an effect and we all knew was coming.

If George Osborne isn't much cop at spearheading a recovery which doesn't resemble the water in the Dead Sea, then he does at least have the invaluable skill of coming up with corny soundbites. At the end of the Budget he declared he had put fuel in the tank of the British economy, having taxed North Sea oil and gas to take a whopping penny off fuel duty. Today he assured us all that we're "a safe haven in a storm of international stability", even while our erstwhile competitors with major problems, like the United States in particular, which also felt the ill effects of the Japanese tsunami, have far higher growth forecast. As Larry Elliot points out, for all the talk of rebalancing the economy away from the financial sector, a difficult enough task without imposing austerity at the same time, manufacturing remains 8% below the level it was at 5 years ago while the banks have bounced back straight back, buoyed up by billions of pounds of taxpayer's money. The bankers meanwhile just paid themselves another £14bn in bonuses.

In the same way as that makes the notion that we're all in this together laughable, it's therefore to be expected one of the proposed solutions is to drop the 50p top rate of tax for those earning over £100,000 as soon as is feasible.
As Boris Johnson almost said, Britain needs to signal it's open for those looking to cream off the most they can for themselves while pay the lowest possible amount to the exchequer for doing so. It doesn't matter that it was out of control consumption which helped get us into this mess in the first place: any growth, regardless of how sustainable it is or the side-effects it will end up having will do when so far nothing else has worked.

Having boxed themselves into this approach, regarding even the slightest deviation from their deficit reduction plan as being akin to putting us directly on the path to a Greek-style default, the Tories have left themselves with no wriggle room whatsoever. They won't countenance more quantitative easing, probably wisely considering inflation, they'll never agree to going back on the rise in VAT, and they steadfastly refuse to contemplate anything slightly resembling a stimulus package. All bets have been placed on the private sector saving the day, and while it's been creating jobs,
the JSA claimant count continues to rise as GDP flat-lines.

It might well be that there simply isn't any room for manoeuvre now with the combination of interest rates at historic lows and markets jumping at shadows, but this was all the more reason to have a Plan B and Plan C in reserve in case everything took a turn for the worse. Instead we simply have politicians who refuse to admit to being even slightly worried by such low, stagnant growth. Denial it most certainly looks like, even if Ed Balls isn't the best person to be point the finger.

Still, if there's one thing Osborne can surely rely on it'll be the support of the Murdoch press, considering those 16 meetings with various NI representatives. Let's have a look at the Sun's leader:

Mr Cameron's team talk a good game. But that is all it is. Talk.

Time is running out for this Government to get a grip.


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Monday, July 25, 2011 

Anders Breivik and "cultural Marxism".

When it comes to terrible, immediately unattributable terrorist attacks like the ones in Oslo on Friday, the best approach would be to take a step back before jumping to conclusions. The impossibility of doing so in the era of 24-hour-news, Twatter and everything else means that criticising those who are (mostly) being asked to do so knowing only what everyone else does, i.e. very little, isn't always entirely productive, even if Charlie Brooker does it very well.

It's certainly rather more justified when those who are in a hole then refuse to stop digging. Strangely, those associated with the Labour Uncut website seem more affected than most. Dan Hodges writes that this tragedy shouldn't be turned into a simple issue of solidarity, even after he admits it was a "targeted attack", while Tom Harris, having first pointed the finger at al-Qaida or its associates as so many others did, compounds the error. The left should not imagine that because this particular terrorist is white and indeed, killed teenage left-wingers, it absolves them from failing to acknowledge or adequately condemn jihadists.

Hodges does have a point however when he raises the comparison of Gabrielle Giffords and Jared Lee Loughner, if not with the implication that "the left" was blaming Sarah Palin and Tea Party before he'd even been charged. It was Giffords herself who said there were potential consequences to Palin putting her location in a gun sight, and it was certainly the case the political rhetoric in the US was raising to ever more ridiculous and potentially dangerous heights, even if the reaction now seems a little overblown. Loughner as it turned out did not have any associations with right-wing Republicans like Palin and Michele Bachmann or their supporters, to name but two: instead, the best explanation so far for his actions is that he was a mentally ill young man with conspiratorial tendencies, who having felt slighted by Giffords in the past decided to target her.

Anders Breivik by contrast couldn't really have been more clear in setting out the justification, such as it is, for his actions. His 1,500 page manifesto, which quotes liberally from dozens of writers, has an entire, supposedly hypothetical section titled "a declaration of pre-emptive war" (page 766 onwards). In it, his group, named hysterically the Knights Templar, which seems to consist of one Anders Breivik, offers a full pardon to the "Western European multiculturalist regimes" as long as they capitulate by 2020 to the Templar's military forces (page 785). Presuming that this pardon is quite unreasonably not accepted, he goes on to explain that all multiculturalists, whether they are "hardcore Marxist, cultural Marxist, suicidal humanist, career cynicist or [...] capitalist globalist" are essentially the same, and that the punishment for such high treason is also the same (page 806), although further on he only mentions execution as the penalty for "category A and B criminals" (page 930), while "category C traitors" can be considered legitimate targets "in larger operations where WMDs are involved". He also elucidates what the prime targets should be for a "Justiciar Knight Commander" (page 921):

Concentrate on massive and compact buildings that are vulnerable to a “single source” blast/assault. We must ensure that a maximum number of category A, B and C traitors are hit with a minimum of civilians. Specified targets fit that profile:

Prioritised targets:
- MA100 political parties - cultural Marxist/multiculturalist political parties. Prioritised targets include HQs or annual meetings of MA100 political parties

Breivik's influences for his personal ideology are writ large throughout. He most admires "Fjordman", the pseudonymous blogger who's written for a number of far-right sites, and cites numerous anti-jihadist blogs, such as Gates of Vienna, Jihad Watch, Atlas Shrugs and others. Those looking closer to home will quickly see parallels between Breivik's belief in what is essentially a conspiracy between mainstream political parties to institute political correctness, or what he calls "cultural Marxism", leading to mass Muslim immigration and eventually the disintegration of democracy and the triumph of Eurabia, and the world view of groups such as the English Defence League, with which he's alleged to have dealings with, although they've never begun to aspire to his lofty pseudo-intellectual heights. Melanie Phillips, who has long despaired of the "suicide of the West", having found herself being quoted by Breivik has quickly pointed to his scattergun approach. As her blog seems to have collapsed under the weight of the traffic her defence piece brought in, all we can currently go by is her tweet, which says the "atrocity ignites left pathology".

One story which Breivik returns to throughout his manifesto (first appears on page 365) is this comment piece by Andrew Neather, seized on by the likes of the Daily Mail and Telegraph as the "proof" of a plot by Labour to recreate Britain as a fully multicultural society, where the party would forever remain in power backed by the votes of grateful immigrants. The only problem was, as Neather later responded, there was no plot and the minister he wrote the speech for was later removed from her position. Breivik not only quotes from Phillips' comment piece which more than misrepresents Neather (page 368), he uses Neather's supposed revelation as part of his explanation as to why "political activists, journalists, politicians, NGO leaders" should be treated as "traitors" (page 806) and ultimately, executed.

As much as Breivik has appropriated or indeed, admires al-Qaida's approach, as Will McCants and Spencer Ackerman have both noted, it's fairly apparent he has most in common with Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, although even Ted, who wrote a 35,000 word essay detailing his belief system, would have blanched at the excessive detail and personal information Breivik has left in his far longer tome. McVeigh, whom Breivik refers to on a number of occasions (page 950, 967) including once in his diary on the making of the bomb, exclaiming he now understands "why Mr. McVeigh limited his manufacturing to 600kg" (page 1466), was a believer in the now almost passe conspiracy theory of the "new world order" and was so angered by the heavy-handed raids on Ruby Ridge and Waco that he decided to strike back. Breivik doesn't even have a government "atrocity" to fall back on: his simple belief that Europe will be overrun by Muslims down to a mixture of demographics, immigration and "cultural Marxism", as easily debunked as any notion of a Zionist occupied government, was fuelled by paranoid hatred from far-right bloggers and nominally mainstream writers who make a living out of such alarmism.

The Heresiarch delicately considers whether, seeing as such individuals have long denounced non-violent Islamists and even ordinary Muslims for either enabling or tolerating the jihadists, it's possible that they've done the same with Breivik:

To some extent, Melanie Phillips and the others are now getting a taste of their own medicine. They have been far too quick in the past to elide the distinction between Islamist opinions and violence, and also between Muslims in general and Islamists in particular. The spread of hardline Islam is largely a phenomenon within Muslim communities, and poses the greatest problem to other Muslims (female Muslims, gay Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims...). If "Islamophobic" writers are now being tarred with the same brush as the appalling Breivik... well, perhaps it will give them pause for thought.

Well, it might. It will almost certainly temporarily lead to some soul-searching, such as that of Mark Humphrys, who goes through Breivik's writing looking for where their opinions went their separate ways, although he seems erroneously to conclude that Breivik suddenly decided upon violence last year, when it's apparent that his manifesto by his own admission has been years in the writing. At best it could lead a toning down of the rhetoric. On the other hand, it may well embolden some: already the EDL, while denouncing the attack has suggested that it shows what could happen in this country if their petty thuggery and attempts at riling up Muslims aren't given more political attention (surely if their case for a crackdown on Muslim extremists and Sharia law isn't addressed? Ed.)

Far more plausible though, and regardless of how Breivik's ideology was nurtured and encouraged, is that he's a one-off. So much of his manifesto appears to be utter fantasy, such as the sections dedicated to the medals and ribbons of his Knights Templar organisation (page 1075) (members likely to be one, despite his claim as to there being two other cells), not to the mention the sexual proclivities of his friends and relatives (page 1171), or his time as the biggest hip-hopper in west Oslo (page 1388) that it suggests someone, despite the intelligence necessary to produce such a document, that is simply not in full touch with reality. Others would have failed or given up at various stages in the planning process. It was a mixture of pure luck and Norway being unprepared for such an assault that led to his success. While some should be at the least examining their consciences, the rest of us can be fairly secure in knowing that there are most certainly not others waiting to launch further attacks on the "cultural Marxists".

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Saturday, July 23, 2011 

Rolling with the punches.

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Friday, July 22, 2011 

Lucian Freud, 1922 - 2011.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011 

Undeveloped vetting.

I know, I know, yet another post on phone hacking. It does though seem absolutely remarkable, to say the least, that Andy Coulson we now learn didn't undergo "developed vetting", the highest level of security clearance, which would have given him full access to material deemed to be "top secret". It also looks incredibly damaging that both Coulson's deputy and his successor have indeed undergone DV, as it seems did all of the communications directors under Labour. Alastair Campbell would presumably have had the most to worry about, considering he had both experienced severe depression and was a recovering alcoholic, yet he obviously passed. Why on earth would Coulson not go through it unless it was suspected his time at the News of the World would either expose him unreasonably to blackmail or uncover something that would need him to not just forgo access to secret documents but to resign entirely? Raising the £500 cost and that there was little need for him to go through vetting as there was nothing happening which required such clearance is just about as ludicrous as any explanation given through this whole affair.

Whether eventually those within Downing Street will turn on each other as it now seems those formerly at the NotW have begun to remains to be seen. Apart from resulting in the tearing up of the contract under which Glenn Mulcaire was continuing to have his legal fees paid for by News International, as had long been suspected, meaning he now has no reason whatsoever not to tell the police all that went on at the Screws, the Murdochs session before the culture committee on Tuesday has now also led Colin Myler and Tom Crone to query James' evidence that he didn't know about the "for Neville" email when he settled the Gordon Taylor case. The "for Neville" email was the smoking gun which proved the phone hacking at the paper had gone beyond Clive Goodman and Mulcaire, and for James to have seen it means he should have at least queried whether there was more to come out. It also discredits his evidence that he was told the settlement was just a hangover from the criminal prosecution.

This isn't even close to being over, however much some now want the whole affair to fade into the background.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011 

Can't we talk about something else? Oh.

Well, that's that then. Time to move on. The public are tired of the phone hacking scandal. There are far more important things to be discussing or ruminating over than the resignation of the two most senior policemen in the land due to their associations with former News International employees and their failure the first time round to properly investigate suspected wrongdoing. Now that the Murdoch circus has packed up and left, it's time to let the judicial inquiry and all the other assorted investigations take place and focus on those other important things, like bankers shockingly continuing to pay themselves bonuses and the fact the economy's still in the toilet. All this has been distracting attention from the slow death of the Euro, and the equally slow death of hundreds of thousands in Somalia and Ethiopia from hunger, as the UK director of UNICEF said in full page adverts. It seems to be only us, the Great British Public, and our famed bottomless pockets that can save the day.

In fairness, it isn't just the Daily Mail (satirised mercilessly in today's Private Eye) and other organisations with their own dodgy dealings to hide, or those trying to take attention away from Dave and his catastrophic decision to hire Andy Coulson who want to end the saturation coverage of phone hacking; after all, I didn't really want to write too much about it this week either (so much for that), and arguably other news has been pushed down the agenda which otherwise would have been on the front pages. All the same though, there hasn't been a scandal or crisis quite like this for many years, encompassing not just favouritism and possibly corruption at the very highest levels of the Met, or the employment of someone who allegedly, and I stress, allegedly signed off on the bribing of police officers as the government's head of media. Add in the disgraceful invasions of privacy, the potential hindering of a police investigation into the disappearance of a teenage girl, the closure of one of the oldest newspapers in the country, the breaking of the Murdoch spell over our politicians and their calling (somewhat) to account in front of a parliamentary committee and it's difficult not to say the coverage has been mostly justified.

David Cameron then came to the Commons to make his emergency statement having spent the last two days in Africa getting as far away from this country and its little local difficulties as possible. We're told that Number 10 has been "fuming" at the "hysteria" in the press, and he came in with a strategy that was as simple as it was effective, if disengenuous. Set out perfectly reasonably the appointments to the judicial inquiry and the changes to its remit, all of which were incidentally welcome, even if going after the BBC is more than a bit of a red herring, deal with the unpleasantness of Ed Llewellyn telling John Yates not to brief him about phone hacking (imagine the justified outrage if he had done the opposite, he said), Neil Wallis's non-employment by the Conservative party (he merely provided some informal advice on a voluntary basis) and then finally sort-of apologise for employing Andy Coulson.

This was half an expression of regret, the not actual apology so beloved of Tony Blair when it came to the Iraq war. On numerous occasions the indication was he would say something approaching a mea culpa, then when it came down it he never said the hardest word itself. If it turned out that Andy Coulson had all along been lying to him, then and only then would it be the time for a "profound apology". Not resignation, as most would feel be appropriate, having given a government job to someone who'd bought police officers and helmed an office where criminal activities were endemic, he'd instead beg our forgiveness for his simple, bug-eyed naivety. Dave like so few of the rest of us continues to hang to the quaint notion of innocence until guilt has been proved, even if almost every single person other than the now chancellor and News International advised him that Coulson was bad news.

All this done, it was time to turn the tables. Regardless of what Ed Miliband asked, and he didn't help himself by slightly overreaching with his connection of Sir Paul Stephenson's resignation to Cameron's continued employment of Coulson, he was going to be the opposite of humble. No, Miliband was "hunting for feeble conspiracy theories". Whenever a politician starts invoking our tin-foil hat wearing friends, you ought to know they're hiding something or being customarily evasive. Never mind that not just News International but the Metropolitan police kept telling the Guardian their tenacity over phone hacking was down to the overactive imagination of Nick Davies and that it's ever so slightly suspicious and convenient that not a single NI executive had any idea what was going regardless of their day to day workings at the company, clearly the idea that this could go any further or that Cameron is up to his neck in it as well is crackers.

The other line of attack was to put all the blame on Labour for doing absolutely nothing during their time in office, or worse, Gordon Brown's cosying up to Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks. It didn't matter that Brown did indeed want to set-up a judicial inquiry into phone hacking, as the record shows, regardless of his or his wife's friendship and slumbering with NI minions, only to be told that it would be impossible to report prior to the election and that the press would scream and point at how it was for political advantage over Cameron, as they would have done. It also didn't matter that regardless of what Labour did, whether it was employ Damian McBride who discussed potentially smearing Tories but never did (and that story was also the result of hacking Derek Draper's emails, not to mention McBride resigned immediately) or Alastair Campbell, who Cameron later said "falsified documents", presumably a reference to the dodgy dossier, they never brought someone with such a reputation as Coulson into a government job.

Enlivened by this, many Tories (with a few good honourable exceptions) then spent the rest of the session building on this assault, despite Cameron denouncing Miliband for his playing of the debate "for narrow political advantage". It was reminiscent of the bad old days when innumerable sycophants within New Labour asked planted, scripted questions, giving him the opportunity to denounce the Tories for everything they had ever done wrong at least five times a session. The execrable Louise Mensch denounced the partisanship of the "party of Damian McBride and Tom Baldwin". Sajid Javid managed to shoehorn in Brown's selling off of the country's gold at the bottom of the market. Nicky Morgan suggested Labour was also suffering from "collective amnesia", while Claire Perry mentioned today just happened to be the anniversary of the moon landing, "around which conspiracy theorists like to cluster".

On and on it went, while Labour MPs (and the Lib Dem Mike Hancock) tried and failed to get Cameron to either name the company that vetted Coulson when he hired him and also whether he had so much as mentioned the five letters "BSkyB" during any of his many meetings with News International. Cameron finally just sat down with an "urgh!", having been asked for the umpteenth time over the Sky bid. Just to lower the tone even further, Paul Uppal stood up and said "[O]ne thing that shames our democracy, though, is that there are elements in the House that seem to want to make political capital out of the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone." Yes, how dare Ed Miliband want to get to the truth of what happened at News International when Andy Couslon was editing the paper in Brooks's absence, as the Dowler family had urged him to when they met him? Cameron responded, before somewhat covering himself, with "as someone said, I'm enjoying this". Margaret Thatcher said it in her last appearance to the Commons before she stood down as prime minister.

Miliband later took part in the debate and answered some of the accusations made against Tom Baldwin, whose line manager at the time of the alleged illegal accessing of the Conservative party accounts was none other than a certain Michael Gove. He also reminded those with short memories of Lord Ashcroft's failure to domicile himself in this country having promised William Hague he would, considering which they ought to "shut up". It was also obvious he said when challenged, that rather than meeting at Downing Street as Gordon Brown had with Rebekah Brooks six times a year, Cameron was seeing the Gorgon lookalike out in Oxfordshire and elsewhere. By then though everyone else had switched off, and slippery Dave, taking after Teflon Tony, had seen off any potential challenge to his authority.

As could have been expected, Cameron's failure to answer about BSkyB and Coulson's vetting has since been shown up as he did indeed have conversations with NI about the takeover bid, while his spin doctor only underwent the lowest level of vetting originally and then wasn't given security clearance similar to that of Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell once he entered government. Any suggestion though that anything was inappropriate about the former, or that Coulson couldn't be given access to full intelligence because of his past is completely wide of the mark, and are simply, conspiracy theories. Now perhaps we can finally return to those topics which really matt--, oh, everyone's gone on holiday.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011 

Little contrition and no real taking of responsibility.

If there's one thing you can depend on, it's that out there are a few twats who think that throwing pies at people makes both a great political and humourous statement. No surprise whatsoever to learn that the "stand-up comedian" behind it was involved in the setting up of that other band of jokers, UK Uncut, who so wonderfully made their point by getting around 150 young people arrested for invading, err, Fortnum and Mason. Murdoch at various points in his career might well have justified getting a pie in his face; James certainly deserved one after his MacTaggart lecture a couple of years back. Targeting him today was just incredibly stupid, a condition that seems to be as endemic in UK Uncut as amnesia is at News Corporation.

For if that was the verdict of the previous report by the culture committee, it could just as easily be applied to the evidence given by both the Murdochs and later Rebekah Brooks. The popular image of Rupert Murdoch as this great media baron pulling numerous strings behind the scenes with this great eye for detail, the "billionaire tyrant" from the Simpsons, has not always been backed up by the evidence, but the performance he put in today of knowing seemingly nothing about what was for a long time one of his favourite papers seemed to lack all credibility. Just how much of an act the whole thing was is difficult to tell: it's been apparent for a while that age is beginning to catch up with him, but to the extent suggested today? It just doesn't seem wholly plausible, not least when it seemed so at odds with the television pictures of him striding about a week ago back in America and answering questions put to him with no problems whatsoever.

At times you had to wonder whether he'd even bothered to read the News of the World, or paid any attention whatsoever to the journalists who were producing it other than the editor. He'd never heard of Neville Thurlbeck, one of the paper's long time chief reporters, not even in relation to the Max Mosley case, which you would imagine he'd have least taken something of an interest in. We had to understand that despite being one of Murdoch's first loves, the first newspaper he'd bought in Britain and had played a vital role in the building of his empire, it only made up 1% of News Corp's business, and employed only a fraction of his 52,000 workers worldwide. In any case, such details were below his pay grade, to be dealt with by his underlings, who had so horribly betrayed him. He'd trust Les Hinton with "his life", and yet he seemed to putting a fair share of the blame squarely on his shoulders. Asked by the surprisingly effective Philip Davies whether it was Hinton who could have authorised the continuing paying of Glenn Mulcaire's legal bills, he twice responded with "could have been". It was one of the very few answers in the affirmative during the whole session.

Murdoch senior certainly improved as the session went on, when not being quietly but expertly questioned by Tom Watson, who repeatedly had to do the equivalent of telling James to shut up when he attempted to answer on his father's behalf. As Watson stated, Rupert is News Corp's head of corporate governance, and yet he knew apparently absolutely nothing about phone hacking or almost anything which went on at the Screws other than through his occasional phone calls to the editor, which were not even weekly occurrences, somewhat different to the time when Piers Morgan was editor. Rebekah Brooks later remembered that Rupert used to ring at least every other day while she was editor of the Sun, a slightly more realistic insight into his overwatch practices.

While Big Rupe's approach was to feign approaching senility, his favoured son, noted for having a short temper and not suffering fools had to control himself for almost three hours. He did this through going on interminably, subjecting the committee to corporate speak while not actually answering almost any questions whatsoever. This naturally won them over, as did his general politeness and congratulating them on their questions, anything to stretch out his responses in contrast to his father's terse but often informative answers. He was shocked, shocked as everyone else that Mulcaire's legal bills were still being met by his dad's company, while knowing absolutely nothing about who authorised it or when. He'd authorised the payment to Gordon Taylor, having been advised to do so by Tom Crone and Colin Myler, convinced it was merely a hangover from the criminal case against Mulcaire and Clive Goodman. Despite the payout being £750,000, this wasn't a big enough sum apparently for him to demand assurances that any more unpleasant surprises would be uncovered that would require similar compensation. The confidentiality clauses of the settlements were not suspicious, nor was the size of the payout, all were simply part and parcel of the way corporations do business, as were the settlements reached with Mulcaire and Goodman for unfair dismissal. There was no cover up, or if there was, James was an unwitting part of it.

The only time when Murdoch junior looked close to losing his cool was when asked by Adrian Sanders whether he was familiar with the term "willful blindness", a concept that it was apparent he did understand but feigned ignorance of, leaving his father to intercept and say he did understand the phrase and felt there weren't guilty of any such thing.

With the notable exception of a few exchanges, and the lines of questioning pursued by Watson, Davies and Paul Farrelly, the Murdochs just about managed to muddle through. The contrition meant to be displayed through the pre-cooked soundbite of this being the "most humble day" of Rupert's life didn't ring true for a moment, and only gained any real impact after the moron with shaving foam intervened. True, appearing before a committee of jumped-up MPs and having to affect to being truly sorry was something Murdoch hasn't had to experience much during his adult life, although it hardly equates to the time when he was threatened with bankruptcy back before he secured the TV rights to the Premier League. Equally, if this was meant to parliament showing its teeth and the committee system coming into its own, than it was just as unimpressive a display. Getting even something approaching to the truth would have required evidence to be given under oath, something the Murdochs may still yet have to do as part of the judicial inquiry.

It also overshadowed the evidence given by Rebekah Brooks, which was if anything even more extraordinary. Despite being the editor of the News of the World, everything it seemed had gone on over her head. Like Andy Coulson, she had never heard of Glenn Mulcaire until 2006. The paying of private investigators was done at the managing director level. Never did she so much as hear the name Glenn when it came to asking where the stories she printed had came from, despite his what we now know to be vast efforts on behalf of the paper. She did, as she conceded to Tom Watson, use the PI Steve Whittamore herself, in what she suggested was an attempt to find out where a paedophile lived. Bizarrely, she criticised the Guardian and New York Times for naming the man, something which took a remarkable amount of chutzpah having had no qualms whatsoever about orchestrating a campaign where innocent people had to leave where they lived after being wrongly accused of being sex offenders. She knew absolutely nothing about the rehiring of Jonathan Rees. She was eager to spread the blame to other papers while taking absolutely no responsibility herself. Oh, and she hadn't gone horse-riding with David Cameron. At the end she promised to come back and give "more fulsome" responses once she wasn't out on bail, something that considering the evidence of the Murdochs isn't something worth looking forward to.

And that failure to take real responsibility is the most hypocritical thing. If there's one thing that the Murdoch press has always emphasised, it's personal responsibility. Buck-passing is never acceptable; the only way you'll get anywhere in life is through hard graft, not through waiting for others to do things for you or depending on that most nebulous of institutions, the state. When it really comes down to it though, the CEO of News Corporation doesn't accept responsibility for what went on at the News of the World. As Paul McMullan said on Newsnight, still being blamed, even after all the apologies, are the journalists and the private investigators they employed. The methods that the editors sanctioned and which the proprietor encouraged in order to get the stories in the first place don't enter into it. How could they? As Brooks, Coulson and the Murdochs have all said, they didn't know anything about any of it. They were as misled as all the rest of us. Those who got chewed up and spat out, like Sean Hoare, were just part of the machine, and as we saw, can be sacrificed. In any case, Brooks and Murdoch never even know who they were.

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Monday, July 18, 2011 

The best laid plans...

You know, having written about nothing other than the phone hacking scandal for the last fortnight, I'd resolved to try and minimise the number of posts this week dedicated to it. It also looked on Saturday as if the real action of the week would be tomorrow, after which parliament was due to go into recess, with the silly season commencing in earnest.

The other problem was that even then, the number of ways in which you could describe the unexpected developments was beginning to diminish. There are only so many times you can claim astonishment, be stunned, staggered or rocked by the twists and turns of a couple of weeks that have been quite unlike any in recent years. The equivalents have to be either the loans for peerages debacle, or the death of Dr David Kelly, and neither of those cases, while deadly serious at the time, managed to bring down so many establishment figures as have fallen on their swords thanks to the original persistence of the Guardian.

The resignations of Sir Paul Stephenson and John Yates from the Metropolitan police were clearly the right decisions. Like some others, I originally felt Yates had been somewhat harshly treated by the Home Affairs committee last week. Certainly, his reviews of the original phone hacking investigation in 2009 and last year were woefully lacking, with it being obvious that he had no interest whatsoever in making things difficult for himself with the wider press he'd courted assiduously during his investigation into the Labour loans scandal. That though seemed more down to the general attitude within the Met which was dismissive towards the Guardian, as they've since documented, than to do with any potential conflict of interest or allegations of impropriety. Some Labour MPs have never forgiven Yates for daring to arrest Ruth Turner as they would a common criminal, raiding her house at dawn, or for his relentless but in the end fruitless pursuit of wrongdoing concerning Lord Levy and friends. The calls for his resignation had to be seen in the context of potential revenge being sought.

Now we know of just how close his relationship was with Neil "Wolfman" Wallis, and how he neither he, nor his boss nor the Met's director of public affairs Dick Fedorcio felt it necessary for anyone outside the force to know about his subsequent employment as a PR it's little wonder that there's been as Yates put it in his resignation statement, a "huge amount of inaccurate, ill-informed and on occasion downright malicious gossip" published about him. The announcement that the Independent Police Complaints Commission is to look into allegations that Yates "inappropriately" helped Wallis's daughter get a job at the Met just puts everything even further into perspective. Regardless of what he now says, Yates must have known that to reopen the phone hacking investigation when it was in his power to do so would have exposed his friend, deputy editor of the News of the World while Andy Coulson was helming it, to at the very least the unpleasantness of suspicion by association. At worst, it would have meant having to arrest him, as indeed happened last Thursday. There was nothing to stop him passing the decision over to someone else, citing his potential conflict of interest as the reason; instead he wasted no time in dismissing there being any new case for the NotW to answer.

Likewise, a similar error of judgement on the part of Paul Stephenson has ultimately led to his downfall. Having faced down politicians, and knowing he was going to be criticised today in the Commons by the home secretary for having failed to tell them that he had hired Wallis, it was obvious once the story emerged that he had enjoyed a gratis stay at Champneys, the health spa Wallis also just happens to do PR for that he couldn't possibly stay in his position. Accepting hospitality when you're just a constable is questionable enough; when you're the commissioner and it would have cost £12,000 he really should have known better, whether or not Champneys is owned by a family friend. Like with Yates though, it seems that he imagined firstly that no one needed to know about their relationship with Wallis, despite the renewed questions about the NotW while he was there, as Nick Davies outlines, and secondly that he saw nothing wrong with employing someone so closely associated with a newspaper which was being portrayed of law-breaking on a grand scale, even if Wallis had nothing to do with it. Combine the two and Stephenson's protests in his statement come across as insincere to say the least.

Last Thursday I somewhat mocked the "senior Met insider" who suggested that if David Cameron could employ Andy Coulson as his spin doctor, then why shouldn't they have employed Wallis. True is it as that the Met ought to have higher standards than an opposition politician for obvious reasons, Stephenson's pointing towards Cameron and Coulson in his resignation statement, especially that he did not wish to "compromise the Prime Minister in any way by revealing or discussing a potential suspect who clearly had a close relationship" with the latter could hardly be more serious. Cameron can claim all he likes that the two are not comparable, and he'd be right in that when he initially gave Coulson a job, handing him a now infamous "second chance", no one had evidence which suggested the phone hacking had gone further, but he can hardly say the same when he installed Coulson as head of media at Number 10. As well as the Guardian reports, we know he was warned and advised against doing so by a number of editors and fellow politicians, all of whom he ignored.

And where is Cameron as all of this is going on? Rather than turning back last night when he heard of the Met commissioner's resignation, he carried on to South Africa, only to "cut short" his four day mission when once again Ed Miliband led by calling for parliament to sit for an extra day, something he's got increasingly used to over the past two weeks. Previously my view was Cameron's position would only by threatened if Coulson was eventually charged; now it's no longer inconceivable that he could be forced out without any such drama. Last Wednesday it also looked as if he'd finally realised the seriousness of the scandal and began to lead the response; now he's back reacting to the demands of others. On Wednesday he needs to go beyond taking responsibility for hiring Coulson, he has to admit he was wrong to ignore what others told him and apologise for it. Then he might just find himself ahead of the curve.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011 


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Friday, July 15, 2011 

The cancer remains.

So. Farewell then to Rebekah Brooks. When someone described by the Graun as a "ruthless, charming schmoozer", the kind of individual who previously considered prime ministers past and present to be friends is only paid tribute to by a couple of Murdochs and err, Giles Coren, you know there's been a very sudden sea change in attitudes to those at the top of the media pile.

Despite everything, we still don't really know why Keith was so intent on keeping dear Rebekah at the top of NI. It's true he feels a special affinity with those who have dragged themselves up from under-privileged backgrounds and share his love of newspapers, qualities which Kelvin MacKenzie and Andy Coulson both had in common with Brooks. It still doesn't explain though just how she came to be seen as being part of the extended family, or how someone on the surface so ill-suited to the job of chief executive came to helm his UK operations. Brooks, like most tabloid editors before her operated a policy in the newsroom of apparent friendliness combined with moments of fury and extended bawling out of those judged to have failed in some way, the latter of which it seems increased as she approached the end of her tenure. Inspiring fear in those you come across while chief exec simply doesn't work, nor does telling lies which can be easily found out, as she did when she claimed the Guardian had "likely deliberately misled the British public".

Last week the obvious thing to have done would have been to accept Brooks's resignation and keep the News of the World open, even if last Sunday's edition was to be an extended mea culpa with those involved in the cover up also falling on their swords. The Murdochs not only did the opposite, sacrificing a paper and loyal workers in a desperate attempt to save both Brooks and the BSkyB bid, Rupert then went on his bizarre walkabout at the weekend, saying to the press that his first priority was his flame-haired CEO. Even if propping up Brooks was a ploy to direct flak away from Murdoch junior, the very person who authorised the payment to Gordon Taylor in a failed attempt to hush up the spiralling scandal, then subsequent events and the failure to get a grip meant that her departure was an inevitability, later if not sooner.

Her resignation letter, decoded by the Graun, says it all. She says she feels a "deep sense of responsibility for the people we have hurt", yet only last week she was blaming a BBC-Guardian witch-hunt instead of her own failings for the closure of the Screws. Unlike the hacks left without a job, it's apparent that she'll remain on the NI payroll, although in what capacity it remains to be seen. Equally clear is that falling on her own sword now solves absolutely nothing: the attention has immediately shifted to James. The investigations now under way in America suggest it could soon move to KRM himself. After suggesting only "minor mistakes" had been made by News Corp, to then issue such a craven apology as will be published in newspapers tomorrow indicates that those who have never felt the need to say sorry before still don't genuinely mean it now. Brooks may be gone, but the cancer remains.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011 

A very Murdochian volte-face and the Wolfman.

It obviously hasn't quite sunk into the Murdochs yet just how far they've fallen, nor has it seemingly occurred to them that they could still go even lower. Their original letters to the culture committee, stating how they were sadly unavailable to give evidence next Tuesday were perfect examples of the excuses given by those who formerly felt or rather knew they were above such inconveniences as appearing before a group of jumped-up MPs to be asked daft, impertinent questions.

Their volte-face a few hours later, after being informed that they could be imprisoned (in the tower?) should they continue to have better things to do, an empty, clearly illegal threat if there ever was one, was as grudging as they come. Yes, we have found some space in our diaries, but don't think about asking us any actual questions (PDF), as then we may be forced to incriminate ourselves. As has been pointed out, no one has yet been charged with any actual offence as a result of Operation Weeting, so there's no possibility whatsoever of any eventual prosecutions being prejudiced or any issues being sub judice. Tuesday then threatens to be something of a let down, as reticence already seems to be the strategy the unholy trifecta of Murdoch, Murdoch junior and Brooks will pursue. It will at least make a difference to the previous one decided upon by NI executives and Screws hacks: what we now know to be lies and deliberate obfuscation.

Speaking of which, Murdoch's insistence to the Wall Street Journal that News Corp has only made "minor mistakes" in its handling of the debacle is just ever so slightly rose-tinted. Even assuming that he's not referring to News International's disastrous combination of procrastination and bullshitting when it came to phone hacking, if he'd bothered to take something approaching an interest back in 2009 then he still could have prevented having to abandon the bid for BSkyB by forcing NI to come clean, instead of it having to be forced out of them by a combination of the Guardian and the police.

NI is clearly grasping at any small mercies which come its way: tomorrow's Sun has on its front page the news that the Graun has apologised over claiming Brown's medical records were accessed by the paper directly. Instead it's accepted that a source provided the detail that Fraser had cystic fibrosis, although where he got the information from it's still not clear, nor does it even begin to make it acceptable that the Sun published the news in the first place, having threatened the Browns if they spoiled the "exclusive".

Not that the Metropolitan police are having a much better time of it. The news that the latest former NotW executive to be arrested, Neil "Wolfman" Wallis had been providing "strategic communications" (no, seriously) advice to the commissioner on a part-time basis may have come as a shock to Boris "codswallop" Johnson and Downing Street, yet his relationship with others within the Met has been known for some time. Private Eye reported in No. 1288 at the end of May that John Yates had been forced into admitting he had lunch with Wallis back in February, a meal Yates felt didn't need to be recorded in the Met's hospitality register as it was a "private engagement". The Eye speculated at the time that Wallis might be "quietly assisting" Inspector Knacker with their inquiries; if he was, then it was obviously decided that his help needed to be put on a more official footing. Still, as a "senior Met insider" told the Graun:

"The commissioner thought if the prime minister is happy employing Andy Coulson, and Neil Wallis has bid the lowest price, what reason would we have not to employ him?"

Yes, what possible reason? I don't know about you, but I'm coming up blank.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 

Decline and fall.

Last December, some of you might remember that Vince Cable told a couple of Telegraph hacks posing as constituents that he was picking his fights in government carefully. Not only had he declared war on Mr Murdoch over the proposed News Corporation takeover of BSkyB, he thought "we are going to win".

I thought the opposite, as must have Cable himself as he was quickly defenestrated for his indiscretion. Indeed, I went so far as to write:

That, more than anything, is the real lesson from today's antics. You simply can't be in any variety of government and be against Murdoch, let alone threaten to go to war against him, especially if you favour not having your voicemail messages listened in to. This is exactly why we've had the miserable sight of both Ed Miliband and John Denham rushing out to condemn Cable, even as Labour gets chewed to pieces in the Sun, as they still believe that one day it'll be their turn to bask once again in the warm glow of Murdoch media support.

In fairness to myself, absolutely no one predicted or could have come close to imagining how quickly Murdoch and News International could have gone from being all conquering behemoths, with the power to strike down any politician foolish enough to suggest that what's good for them isn't necessarily good for the rest of the country, to the pariahs they've become over the course of ten staggering days. True, almost all the media barons of the past few decades have been brought low in some way or another, Robert Maxwell and Conrad Black most notoriously, yet Murdoch just seemed too strong, too imposing, too, to paraphrase a cliché, big to fall.

As the reporters have all stated, the withdrawal of the bid to swallow BSkyB whole is almost certainly the biggest setback of his entire business career. It's also come only a month after News Corp quietly sold MySpace for $35m, having paid $580 million for it back in 2005. The deal may have been shrewd then; now it looks as embarrassing as one of the blinged up, abandoned profiles on the site. Last Thursday he shut the Screws, a still profitable if tainted brand in a futile attempt to try and save the BSkyB, as well as the skin of his glamorous surrogate daughter. Previously politicians may have accepted that as a sacrifice enough, even considering the depths of criminality it seems the paper may have went to. Today parliament was unanimous, if after the fact, in demanding that the takeover be dropped in the public interest. The fear that Murdoch, his papers and editors both inspired and played with to their utmost advantage has gone. It will almost certainly return, but for once it's difficult to demure from the much reached for expression that it will never be quite the same again.

Certainly the spectacle of a previous prime minister of this country denouncing News International as a "criminal-media nexus" is something I never imagined that I'd see. Gordon Brown's speech was typical of him: self-serving, intensely party political, infuriating and also, much to the distress of some on the Tory benches desperate to finger Tom Baldwin as somehow being as equally culpable as Andy Coulson could well turn out to be, mostly bang on target. Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband have tried to stress that both sides were too close to the Murdochs, and both have said lessons will be learn, but Brown's setting out of the record of how while he was prime minister his government blocked News International and BSkyB's aggressive ambitions to expand was in contrast to Cameron's turning of all their concerns and grievances into prospective policies. It was certainly something of a coincidence that when setting out his bonfire of the quangos while in opposition the one he expressly chose to make an example of was Ofcom, the regulator at the time being raged against by NI.

It's also apparent that had Brown, against the advice of Gus O'Donnell and others set-up a judicial inquiry so close to the election that he and Labour as a whole would have been torn to pieces by the Tory press and the Conservatives themselves. Again, it's worth remembering how no newspaper other than the Guardian reported on the employment tribunal that found Matt Driscoll had been bullied by Andy Coulson, while the Sun had just denounced the report by the media committee on phone hacking, which had reached only moderately critical conclusions, as representing "a black day for parliament". It may well be right that if Brown had really wanted an inquiry he could have ordered one, as some have argued in response, but it's more than understandable that he decided it wasn't worth a further monstering from the tabloids. As he's said, the record will come out.

All of this somewhat distracted from the actual announcement of the judge-led, two-part inquiry. It does thankfully seem to be broad enough in scope to consider the entirety of Fleet Street's use of the "dark arts", and not just the dependence of the News of the World on them. Held under the Inquiries Act, Lord Justice Leveson will have the power to summon almost anyone he feels appropriate, with evidence potentially being given under oath. Leveson, incidentally, was described earlier in the year by the Sun as a "softie", a description they may well come to regret. Especially promising is that he'll be allowed to make recommendations on cross-media ownership, with the potential that the Communications Act of 2003 could be amended to put in more stringent rules on the percentage of the media one person or company can control, prohibiting Murdoch from being able to resubmit a bid for Sky without offloading his other interests.

One thing that shouldn't be forgotten is that as Simon Jenkins wrote this morning, it wasn't ultimately the police, politicians or celebrities bringing civil cases who exposed what had been going on at the News of the World; it was other journalists. The withdrawal of the bid for BSkyB wouldn't have happened without the outrage from the public and the reverse ferret of politicians, it's true, but ultimately this was the Guardian's victory. This is why the reform of press regulation and change in practices while needed, should not go too far. While there should be a record kept of meetings between editors and proprietors and politicians, it doesn't need to be extended beyond that, discouraging contact between senior officials and hacks which often provide the stories that hold governments to account as much as the Commons itself does.

Not many wars are won without a shot being fired. Even fewer are won by individuals that had no direct involvement whatsoever. Vince Cable despite first appearances won his battle. His and our victory ought to remind us that in politics anything is ultimately possible, with even the most intractable and immovable obstacles and individuals being subject to the same forces as everyone else. It might take a long time, but eventually every empire declines and then falls.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011 

The decline of Murdoch and Andy Hayman's relationship with News International.

The turn in political fortunes for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation continues to frankly, amaze. Two Thursdays ago Jeremy Hunt rose in the Commons to all but rubber stamp the swallowing whole of BSkyB by News Corp; tomorrow the House will vote on a Labour motion which urges Murdoch to drop his takeover of Sky in the public interest, with all three parties due to support it. From having a seeming unshakeable grip on any politician seeking power, all of whom had to seek if not his open support then at least hope he wouldn't reject them outright to having almost no influence whatsoever is a fall of immense significance.

It's such a huge change that it's still impossible to even attempt to predict just where the crisis triggered by the phone hacking will eventually lead politics in this country. Where previously I imagined that things would soon return to something approaching normality, it's now difficult to see just how that can happen, at least for Murdoch and his papers. The latter are understandably in something approaching shock, wondering just whether they might remain under his ownership if their disposal is what it takes for the BSkyB deal to now go through.

The response from the Sunday Times and the Sun over the allegations from Gordon Brown is the first sign that they're not going to take just anything which is thrown at them without fighting back. In his interview today with the BBC he wasn't perhaps as specific as he should have been: where he quite rightly said that there is evidence that the News of the World employed convicted criminals as private investigators, there isn't as yet the ocular proof that the Sunday Times did the same, let alone that they were the ones who specifically repeatedly targeted him. Indeed, their story on the flat he purchased looks on the surface to be the kind that was perfectly in the public interest, even if it turned out to be inaccurate. Far less clear cut is the blagging of his bank details, and other attempts at gaining access to private information.

On even more shaky ground is the Sun's reporting on his son Fraser's cystic fibrosis, despite their attempt at defending it today. Rather than being obtained through accessing his medical records, they claim that it was given to them "by a member of the public whose family has also experienced cystic fibrosis". This raises the obvious question of just how this "member of the public" managed to come by information which the Browns themselves were only just beginning to come to terms with, and also just why they decided to deliver it to the Sun. Notably, they haven't specifically denied that this person wasn't paid for the story, nor have they denied that Brown was determined to stop them having it as an exclusive, with Rebekah Wade phoning him up in an attempt to browbeat him into not issuing a spoiling statement. Regardless of how the Sun presented it, it's the kind of story which should only be published with permission from the parents, something which is clear they never directly gave (Slight update: the Sun claims Sarah Brown did give permission, see below, although whether this is the whole story or not remains to be seen).

In a way, Brown's intervention isn't especially helpful even if it's wholly justified, as it distracts attention from those who never sought any publicity or advantage through the media whose privacy was invaded in much the same way. It also gives the scandal a party political dimension which hasn't really been there so far: everyone after all was fair game to the News of the World, and Brown's time as prime minister is still far too controversial for any sympathy towards him to be universal. It's obvious that Brown, while wisely deciding not to comment on Andy Coulson directly in the interview, believes that if the true scale of the hacking scandal had been revealed at the beginning of last year rather than now that he could still be prime minister, such would have been the impact on Cameron and his team.

It also meant that the real action of the day before the home affairs select committee (not the media committee, as I first had it) was shunted into second place on the news bulletins, which meant that Andy Hayman's extraordinary evidence didn't get quite the billing it deserved. One of his first utterances was to admit that he'd had dreams of being a journalist, before he went on to admit that he'd received hospitality from News International at the same time as he'd been heading the original phone hacking investigation. The MPs for some reason found this to be shocking, although the laughter was louder after he said that not to have attended the dinner would have been even more suspicious. His subsequent employment by the Times as an occasional columnist "was a private matter" between him and the paper.

In hindsight, it's easy to be highly suspicious of the relationship between Hayman and News International while he was still assistant commissioner at the Met. Hayman was in overall charge of the notorious Forest Gate terror raid, which resulted in the shooting of one of the Koyair brothers. Having failed to find anything incriminating besides a large amount of money which was explained by the family's Islamic beliefs concerning bank accounts which paid interest, the brothers were smeared relentlessly in both the Sun and News of the World, with the latter breaking the story that child pornography had been found on one of their mobile phones, although no charges were brought. Who the source was for all these stories can only be speculated about.

Hayman certainly did have form however for briefing the press, as the investigation into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes showed. Hayman had told the Crime Reporters' Association on the day of the shooting that an innocent man had been killed, only to report to the Met's management board that

[T]here is press running that the person shot is not one of the four bombers. We need to present this that he is believed to be. This is different to confirming that he is. On the balance of probabilities, it isn’t. To have this for offer would be low risk.

When questioned by the Independent Police Complaints Commission on what he'd told the CRA and why he then decided to present the absolute opposite as being the "official" story, he said he couldn't remember what he'd said to the CRA, a failure of memory which was repeated today. When Hayman subsequently resigned from the Met in December 2007, the Sun's crime editor Mike Sullivan wrote that it was a "sad day for British policing" and that he "was one of the good guys", while the day after the release of the IPCC's report the Sun's editorial thundered that

ANDY HAYMAN’S brilliant leadership in the fight against terrorism has saved dozens of lives.

He is admired by his men just as he is feared by the terrorist scum determined to destroy our way of life.

It's doubly odd how Hayman thought it was appropriate to join the News International stable two months after he left the Met when his direct underling, Peter Clarke today outlined how he felt that the company had obstructed their investigation into phone hacking. As I've wrote this post tomorrow's Sun editorial has been posted up, for the first time commenting directly on the phone hacking through attacking Brown's accusations against the paper. It helpfully distracts from Clarke's view that if NI had offered "meaningful cooperation instead of prevarication and what we now know to be lies" then things could have been different. He later went on to state that he believed they had been "deliberately trying to thwart a criminal investigation".

This still doesn't explain why Clarke's team decided not to extend their inquiry beyond the Royal family and a few token others. No one is going to argue that the Met's anti-terrorist team had more pressing concerns than breaches of privacy during 2006, yet it stretches credulity that a thorough going through of Glenn Mulcaire's notebooks couldn't have been delegated or passed on to a different team within the force, as does his claim that some crime went uninvestigated as a direct result of his uses of resources on it at the time. As Sue Akers, the new broom brought in to helm Operation Weeting later said, having 45 officers working on the inquiry is not going to have much impact on an organisation which has 50,000 staff. Likewise, John Yates's evidence on why in 2009 he took only the best part of a day before he decided not to reopen the investigation remains as wholly lacking as it was originally.

Tomorrow we'll learn of the remit of the inquiry or inquiries to come. They obviously need to be as broad as possible, preferably with witnesses having to give evidence under oath, and investigate how the "dark arts" became so widely used across the tabloids especially towards the end of the 90s and into the 00s. The only thing that seems absolutely certain is that regardless of the fight the likes of the Sun are now beginning to put up, things only seem likely to get worse for News International. Editorials denouncing the previous inquiry by the media committee and calling their report a "dark day for parliament" now ring very hollow indeed.

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