Goal of the month: hacking special

by Atul Hatwal

Readers pick from Miliband, Coogan, Watson, Skinner and er more Watson, for their Hackgate highlight

Around this time of the month we normally do a shadow cabinet goal of the month competition.

But this hasn’t been a normal month.

Hacking has been global front page news, and in amidst the shocking, tawdry and downright bizarre revelations, there have been some points of light that will be remembered for the right reasons.

We bring you five of those moments. Make your choice, vote and tell us which you rate the best.

1. Ed finds his voice

PMQs on the 6th July seems an age ago. On Monday this week, Michael Dugher gave us the inside story about this pivotal exchange on Uncut.

Back then, it was a risk to call for Rebekah Brooks to resign and the BSkyB bid to be referred to the Competition Commission. Plenty of folk on the Labour side were nervous about attacking News International so explicitly.

But as Ed Miliband sets out his case, even David Cameron begins to understand the strength of the case.

In the clip, at the start of Miliband’s first intervention there’s a cut away of Cameron sitting on the government benches. His puce, Colonel Blimp-like expression is the image of man on the wrong side of the argument.

One of the features of the declining years of the last Labour government was the number of times Ministers went out to defend unpopular decisions by hiding behind the obscure detail of government process. It defined the foot dragging approach on expenses.

Cameron’s response to Miliband’s first question is a case study in the dangers of governmentitis.

Its amazing that after just fifteen months in office, someone who is meant to be good at presentation explicitly mounts a defence of their position to such an emotive issue on “a technicality”

2. Knowing him Steve Coogan, knowing you Paul McMullan, a-ha!

On the 8th July, at the end of the first week of revelations, Newsnight hosted what has already become a legendary confrontation.

Steve Coogan pulverises Paul McMullan, a man who, through his media appearances, has done almost as much damage to News International as Glenn Mulcaire’s notebook.

There’s a clear point where something snaps in Coogan and he is straining at the leash to thump Mcmullan. But instead of lunging, he channels the anger and takes McMullan to pieces.

Coogan’s righteous onslaught perfectly echoes the feelings of a nation getting to grips with the extent of the scandal. Shock, revulsion and a growing anger.

McMullan’s limp and flailing body language is the visible representation of News International’s defence.

It’s a metaphor that remains just as appropriate today.

3. Tom Watson exposes Murdoch for what he is

Do you remember the scene in the third Indiana Jones film, where Harrison Ford comes face to face with Hitler?

Well there was touch of that about the first moments of the Select Committee session.

After years of tireless campaigning by Tom Watson, as well as many others, suddenly there they were, Rupert and James Murdoch, face to face with their previously insignificant and ignored inquisitors.

In the days before the session Tom had been playing down expectations. There weren’t going to be pyrotechnics, a single killer question or Few Good Men moment. Murdoch wasn’t going to crack, shouting “Parliament can’t handle the truth!”.

In a sense, Tom was right. There was no explosion, but something equally striking did occur.

This figure who has dominated the media for the best part of four decades was exposed for what he is – an ageing, out of touch, old man.

No doubt, part of the coaching Murdoch received before his appearance was to drill him to think carefully before answering. But to wait so long before uttering anything? And then to stumble over his words and facts?

This wasn’t Ming the Merciless, it was Elmer Fudd.

In terms of getting to the truth, Rupert Murdoch’s responses weren’t terribly helpful. But for the future of News Corp and the role of the Murdoch family in running a media empire, it may well be the turning point.

On the morning after the Select Committee performance, for the first time, News Corp’s big shareholders started to find their voice and organise to put in place some proper corporate governance – a process that will ultimately likely move the Murdochs out of the company.

Tom Watson’s revenge on Rupert Murdoch could yet be to destroy his media dynasty.

4. Cameron caught out by Watson

ITMA! No, not Tommy Handley, Tommy Watson (if you get that you’re older than you look). Not content with a star turn at the Select Committee, he made one of the key interventions in Wednesday’s hacking parliamentary marathon

Rising to respond to Cameron’s bald assertion that no-one raised any specific claims about Coulson with him when in government, Tom Watson catches Cameron clean out.

Studious, measured and precise, Tom Watson is the anti-thesis of the Prime Minister. He has been methodically driving this campaign forward, week in, week out for years.

In contrast, there is something David Gower-esque about Cameron – ability but insufficient application and prone to the same errors time and time again.

He doesn’t recall the letter. Or the fact he did actually respond. The jeers that greet the first words of Cameron’s response vividly illustrate the growing credibility problems he is facing.

His “tribute” to Tom Watson is so obviously a stalling tactic and the absence of any form of rebuttal confirms that it’s another skied catch from the PM.

Lack of attention to detail has become an established part of the media perception of the Prime Minister and is now part of the core part narrative for his government’s failings.

Fifteen months into office, Cameron is running down his credit with the public. Every time he slips up like this, he becomes a little less the Prime Minister, and little more the PR man.

A comment from the Sydney Morning Herald twenty-one years ago about Gower seems eerily prescient,

“Graceful, elegant, languid, indifferent, cavalier, diffident, reckless, and…too laid-back for leadership. As even his county chairman once observed: “Let’s face it, David does not give the appearance on the field of having the job by the balls.””

5. Skinner and the House laugh at Cameron

Laughter is the cruellest punishment in the House of Commons.

David Cameron’s took one hundred and thirty-six questions on his statement and to those who watched it at the time, overall, he came across as capable and combative.

But politics today isn’t about three hour debates.

It’s mediated through the packages for the news broadcasts. And for all of Cameron’s abilities, his obvious discomfort when answering questions on his discussions with News International about the BSkyB bid always meant he was going to struggle in the clips.

Eleven times Cameron was asked and eleven times he evaded.

Dennis Skinner provided the pick of the bunch.

The question isn’t the most eloquent, but Skinner’s presence carries the House with him. As Cameron squirms, the Commons erupts. Through the prism of the nightly news, this exchange showed David Cameron, literally as a laughing stock.

It’s been a long two weeks for the government. If any proof were needed of the impact of the crisis on their mood, it was written on the faces sitting on their front bench.

Nick Clegg doing his very best “nothing to do with me guv” expression. Every aspect of his body language is detached and uncomfortable. And on the other side, Theresa May, semi-slouched and with a face like thunder.

Regardless of the number of supportive backbench interventions enforced by the Tory whips, David Cameron remains very much a man alone.

So there they are, five magic moments from the hacking farrago. Vote now and tell us, and the world, your choice.

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3 Responses to “Goal of the month: hacking special”

  1. Sue Marsh says:

    It has to be Ed for so surprisingly asking all the questions I wanted him to ask but never thought he’d have the cojones to mention.

  2. Bryn Davies says:

    Murdoch is manifestly “out of touch” but what is the relevance of also saying that he is “an ageing, …, old man”? He is old, but what is the relevance of the comment? Are you, in effect, saying that old people are second class citizens, just because of their age?

  3. AmberStar says:

    Ed M was one step ahead of David Cameron through the whole saga.

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