Posts Tagged ‘Andy Coulson’

Clarkson may be obnoxious, but Cameron’s loyalty to his friends is admirable

12/03/2015, 06:29:26 PM

“I don’t know exactly what happened” says David Cameron about motoring motormouth Jeremy Clarkson’s ‘fracas’ with a Top Gear producer, but “he is a constituent of mine, he is a friend of mine, he is a huge talent.”

Yet again the Prime Minister stands by his friends and allies, even when their backs are against the wall, despite brickbats from his critics and for no discernable short-term advantage to himself.

There’s a pattern here and, in the snake-pit of British politics, something of a curiosity.

Think of the way Cameron kept Andy Coulson under his wing until the bitter end, despite early warnings about his seamy conduct as editor of the News of the World.

The Prime Minister is a reluctant butcher in a business where carving up enemies and allies alike is second nature. Look no further than the way he has kept ministers in cabinet jobs for the full run of this parliament.

It is inconceivable that Iain Duncan-Smith and his, as yet, unfurled universal credit reforms would have been given so much latitude under either Blair or Brown.

Or that Andrew Lansley would have stayed in post long after it was abundantly clear he had made a complete hash of the politics of his NHS reforms.

Or that a figure like Oliver Letwin, the brainy but bumptious ‘Minister of State for Government Policy,’ would become a mainstay of the government frontbench.


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David Cameron lied to the House of Commons about Andy Coulson

11/05/2012, 07:00:07 AM

by Atul Hatwal

The reviews for Andy Coulson’s performance at Leveson yesterday might have been glowing, but he did reveal one critical fact. A fact with no caveat or wriggle room.

It came during the passage of questioning on Coulson’s vetting. When asked by the lead counsel for the inquiry, Robert Jay QC, whether he had attended meetings of the National Security Council (NSC), Coulson was unusually clear.

“Yes” he said.

There was no “maybe”, “might have” or “I can’t recall.”

It’s important because attendance at full NSC discussions requires the highest level of clearance, developed vetting (DV) so that participants can view content classified as top secret or above. As has been well established, Andy Coulson did not have this clearance.

So what you might say. If Coulson attended a meeting without the right clearance then that’s not ideal, but hardly front page news.

What elevates this from being another example of shoddy internal government process to significance is the identity of the chair of the NSC: the Rt Hon David Cameron MP.

In this context, Cameron’s reported comments to the House of Commons on Wednesday 20th July 2011 take on a new salience. Responding to questions about Coulson’s security clearance, he stated,

“He was not able to see the most secret documents…It was all done in the proper way“.


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Wednesday News Review

31/08/2011, 06:59:01 AM

Ed to force a vote

Police cuts could lead to weaker law and order on the streets, Ed Miliband has warned as he called on the Government to “learn from the riots”. Mr Miliband has linked the riots to the need to have more officers on the streets. He wants to put pressure on the Government to reverse cuts to the amount of money given to police forces. He also opposes plans for directly elected commissioners which could cost £100m to implement. Mr Miliband hopes to be able to force a vote in Parliament on the issue – either through Labour’s opposition day debates or if enough members of the public sign a petition. But in the weeks since the riots, the Home Secretary defended the budget cuts and said they were not going to be as dramatic as some feared. While Labour have cited the figure showing the cuts amount to 20% in real terms, Theresa May argues they are smaller in cash terms. – Sky News

Labour leader Ed Miliband plans to force a Commons vote on police cuts to flush out Tory rebels and reveal Government splits. The move comes after Mr Miliband, 41, launched a new attack on Chancellor George Osborne’s decision to slash 20% from forces’ budgets. The Labour chief said it was “reckless” not to rethink the cuts in the wake of the riots that swept England earlier this month. The cost reductions will mean a 16,000 drop in officer numbers and a drastic fall in civilian police staffing. Labour may use an ­e-petition to trigger a Commons debate on cuts. Strategists believe many Tory MPs will not vote for the cuts, causing embarrassment for PM David Cameron. Those who do are likely to face a backlash from angry voters. – Daily Mirror

Mitchell is caught with his papers down

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell was pictured holding the document as he left Downing Street. He had been at a meeting of the National Security Council, chaired by PM David Cameron. The papers welcomed Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s announcement that he will stand down in 2014, stating: “This is very important. It improves Afghanistan’s political prospects very significantly. We should welcome Karzai’s announcement in private and in public.” Mr Mitchell is not the first prominent figure to accidentally show secret information. In 2009, Bob Quick was forced to stand down as Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer after he revealed details of an operation to foil an al-Qaeda plot. The year before, then housing minister Caroline Flint was pictured entering Number 10 with a briefing paper predicting property prices were set to plunge. – the Sun

The warning from the World Bank was disclosed in a private Cabinet briefing paper which also showed the British Government welcoming the decision of Hamid Karzai to step down as Afghan president. The paper was prepared for yesterday’s meeting of the National Security Council by officials working for Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary. The document was photographed as Mr Mitchell carried them out of the meeting uncovered. Much of the document refers to an ongoing dispute between the Afghan government and the International Monetary Fund. The IMF is reviewing its support for the Kabul government over allegations of widespread corruption. In April, Britain stopped its payments to the main Afghan reconstruction fund. Mr Mitchell’s note showed that the World Bank has said that unless the dispute is resolved soon, the “transition” process, where the Afghan government takes responsibility for security and Western troops gradually withdraw, will be jeopardised. “The World Bank have told us that the suspension of UK and other [donor] funds to the Afghan government will soon begin to destabilise [activities] essential for successful transition,” the note said. – the Telegraph

The Coalition is split over banking reform

Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers are at loggerheads over plans for sweeping reforms to Britain’s banks aimed at avoiding another taxpayers’ bailout in a future financial crisis. The Business Secretary Vince Cable is demanding the immediate introduction of proposals to force the banks to ring-fence their high street and riskier investment arms that are due to be published by the Independent Commission on Banking on 12 September. But David Cameron and George Osborne, the Chancellor, are sympathetic to the banks’ demand for them to be given several years to build the “Chinese walls” to be proposed by the commission chaired by Sir John Vickers – which could see the reforms delayed until after the next general election. Nick Clegg is backing Mr Cable and the timing of the reforms threatens to provoke a power struggle at the top of the Government. – the Independent

Tories and Coulson avoid an inquiry

The Conservative party will not face an official inquiry into allegations that it broke electoral law by failing to declare News International‘s payments to its former head of communications, Andy Coulson, after the elections watchdog concluded that there was insufficient evidence of a breach. The Electoral Commission had been asked to investigate a series of payments amounting to a six-figure sum made to Coulson by News International in the months after he arrived at Conservative campaign headquarters in 2007, as well as a company car and health insurance he received for three years. Tom Watson, the Labour MP and member of the Commons culture select committee, had raised concerns that the money could have amounted to an undeclared donation to the party. The revelation that Coulson received the severance payments from News International while working for the Conservatives put renewed pressure on the party, which had previously denied that he was paid by anyone else while employed by them. – the Guardian

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Revealed: Cameron supercop’s company mired in bugging and hacking allegations

19/08/2011, 09:51:43 AM

by Atul Hatwal

In the week that newspaper hacking exploded back onto the front pages, it has emerged that the company run by David Cameron’s American crime tsar, Bill Bratton, is mired in a British court case accused of illegal bugging and hacking.

Bill Bratton, a former chief of the LA Police Department is chairman of the private detective agency, Kroll. In June this year, Kroll were accused in court papers by Dr. Martin Coward, a leading city investment manager, of planting covert surveillance devices in his house in Steyning, West Sussex.

Coward claims that Kroll agents illegally broke into his property last December and hid bugs and video cameras in the kitchen and in the fireplace of his study as well as a GPS tracking device in his car.

Evidence referenced in the court papers included the surveillance devices and, most extraordinarily, a video made inadvertently by the bungling snoopers on the surveillance cameras as they were planting them.

Following the hacking allegations against Andy Coulson, these accusations involving David Cameron’s latest appointment will raise new doubts about the prime minister’s judgement.


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Tuesday News Review

26/07/2011, 06:36:38 AM

Pressure piles on for Plan B

The Government could come under pressure later today to produce a ‘plan B’ for the economy if official figures show no sign of recovery.  City forecasts of 0.5% growth for the last three months have been trimmed back by most economists to around 0.1% or 0.2%, and some have even predicted the Office for National Statistics figures could show the economy contracting. Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted there is no room for fiscal stimulus through tax cuts or spending increases, and the only solution is to “get on top of your debt”. Labour has been calling for a economic plan B, saying the Government’s policy of tax rises and spending cuts to erase the national debt cuts “too far and too fast”. They point to earlier figures showing a decline of 0.5% in the final quarter of 2010 and growth of 0.5% in the first three months of 2011 as proof of the coalition’s ineffective grasp on the economy. – Sky News

David Cameron yesterday ruled out tax cuts or spending increases to kick-start Britain’s economy as ministers braced themselves for figures showing growth has ground to a halt. Official statistics to be released today are expected to show that economic growth fell to about 0.2 per cent in the second quarter of this year. Last night it emerged that the top civil servant at 10 Downing Street has raised concerns with the Treasury about George Osborne’s failure to kick-start growth. Jeremy Heywood, permanent secretary at No10, met senior officials in the Treasury and the Department of Business to order urgent action to tackle the problem. Confidential Whitehall documents are reported to have found that the Chancellor’s ‘growth agenda’ is failing to meet key targets. – Daily Mail

An unrepentant David Cameron prepared consumers and the markets for publication on Tuesday of gruesome growth figures by admitting Britain’s “path back to growth will be a difficult one”, but insisting no shortcut lay in either a fiscal or monetary stimulus. The chancellor, George Osborne, also set out his defence ahead of an expected political battering by claiming he had “turned Britain into a safe harbour in a storm” by focusing so rigidly on deficit reduction. He admitted: “There are risks to current and future growth.” The figures are expected to show Britain’s economy has flatlined for almost a year, contrasting with strong growth in Germany and, to a lesser extent, France. Most economists believe the economy ground to a halt in the three months to the end of June after a big slowdown in the manufacturing sector, which has been instrumental in preventing the economy sinking back into recession over the last 18 months. – the Guardian

EDL links probed

Police are trying to track down two Brits who agreed to fight a global anti-Muslim terror crusade with mass murderer Breivik. Before slaughtering 76 and wounding 97 in his sickening spree, Breivik, 32, posted a 1518-page terror plan on the internet. The Norwegian killer claimed he re-founded a fanatical group called Knights Templar Europe with “an English ­protestant” and “an English Christian atheist” in April 2002. The three held two ­meetings in London with five members from France, Germany, Holland, Greece and Russia – who Scotland Yard is trying to identify. – Daily Mirror

As further details emerged of the connections between Anders Behring Breivik and the English Defence League (EDL), the group’s founder warned last night that a similar attack could take place in Britain. The anti-fascist group Searchlight is preparing to release further information today about the killer’s links with the EDL. The EDL was the organisation mentioned most often by Breivik in the 1,500-page personal “manifesto” he posted online before embarking on his killing spree. EDL organiser Daryl Hobson wrote in an online posting: “He had about 150 EDL on his list … bar one or two doubt the rest of us ever met him, altho [sic] he did come over for one of our demo [sic] in 2010 … but what he did was wrong. RIP to all who died as a result of his actions.” However, a senior member said he understood Breivik had met EDL leaders when he attended the demonstration in March 2010, and described him as “very affable”. – the Independent

Boy George regrets recommending Coulson

George Osborne has expressed his regret for recommending Andy Coulson as the Tory party’s director of communications, as an opinion poll shows most people believe Rupert Murdoch‘s News Corp is not a fit and proper company to hold a broadcasting licence. Osborne said : “Of course, knowing what we know now, we regret the decision and I suspect Andy Coulson would not have taken the job knowing what he knows now. But we did not have 20/20 hindsight when we made that decision.” In a further development, lawyers Harbottle and Lewis have responded to a letter from the chair of the home affairs committee, Keith Vaz MP, setting out their inability to disclose information and naming the lawyer who originally advised News International. Harbottle and Lewis explained their previous unwillingness to disclose contents of advice they gave to News International on the scale of any illegal activity at the paper. – the Guardian

Health tsar launches scathing attack on reforms

One of the most senior doctors in the Department of Health today launches a scathing attack on NHS reforms. Sir Roger Boyle, who retired as the Government’s National Director of Heart Disease at the weekend, accuses the Health Secretary of squandering past gains in treatment because of his obsession with opening up the NHS to private contractors, at the expense of patients. Sir Roger told The Independent: “The allegiances [of the private companies] will be to their shareholders, not to the users of the services. If the market was going to work, the Americans would have cracked it.” Mr Lansley’s plans are “the ideas of one man acting without an electoral mandate”, Sir Roger added. Sir Roger says Mr Lansley had never bothered to visit him until a fortnight ago, despite his success in halving heart-disease death rates and slashing waiting times in the past decade, with minimal involvement by the private sector. – the Independent

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Slow, weak and out of touch – Cameron needs answers fast

18/07/2011, 07:00:44 AM

by Michael Dugher

Incumbency in office provides tremendous advantages.  The Tories have always understood this. Seeking out ways to change the rules of the game to benefit them in the future (boundary changes, proposals for changes in party funding, may all be cases in point).  There are also public relations benefits of being in government too, as David Cameron understands very well.  If you are the prime minister, when you organise a barbeque and invite the leader of the free world to share a burger or a banger, the pictures look great and they are beamed out by a grateful media.   Also, in government, you make the news.  In opposition, more often than not, you have to get into the news.  But government can have its downsides too.

In government, it can sometimes feel like you are trying to steer a heavy goods vehicle, rather than drive a light and nippy sports car.  Without strong leadership, there is always a danger, in managing the big beast that is Whitehall, that decision-making can be sluggish and slow, bureaucratic not political.  No 10 can provide a great backdrop for a photo-op, but it can also sometimes be like a bunker (trust me on this).

As the “firestorm” surrounding phone hacking and news international has raged, Cameron has proved hopelessly slow to react.  Worse, he has seemed unwilling to take necessary decisions quickly, to get a grip of the problem and to set the agenda going forward.  Just 15 months after taking office, he has already become a prisoner of the civil service mentality, an approach that can – at its worst – be based on the premise that everything is terribly complicated and difficult and therefore it’s probably better not to say too much or get too involved.  But most seriously for the prime minister, he has failed utterly to understand the depth and the scale of public anger and what therefore needed to be done as a matter of urgency. (more…)

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Friday News Review

08/07/2011, 06:48:05 AM

The news screws no more

From its very first edition in 1843, the News of the World took pride in causing scandal and excitement with its coverage. The paper’s first lead story was a classic Victorian sensation, the lurid tale of a female chemist raped and thrown into the Thames. That same dedication to revealing eye-catching and gut-wrenching details of human misbehaviour would propel the paper to a central place in Britain’s public imagination, and eventually over the cliff-edge to destruction. In 1946, George Orwell’s Decline of the English Murder described an idealised Sunday afternoon thus: “You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World.” A decade later, it was selling nine million copies each week, making it the biggest-selling newspaper in the English-speaking world. In 1969, it was bought by Rupert Murdoch. Under Mr Murdoch’s guidance, the paper continued to set the pace, first by offering a colour magazine, then by adopting a tabloid format. In 2000, Rebekah Brooks took the chair once held by Sir Emsley Carr, one of the greatest editors in Fleet Street history. She held the post for three years before a promotion to edit The Sun, her place taken by her deputy, Andy Coulson. Under Brooks and then Coulson, the News of the World was a paper at the peak of its powers, trampling over its competition with a string of classic tabloid exclusives: from David Beckham’s affair with his nanny to Prince Harry’s drug-taking, it consistently landed the stories that shocked, titillated and scandalised. – Sydney Morning Herald

James Murdoch, the chairman of News International, which owns the newspaper, announced that the final edition would be published this weekend, citing the “inhuman” alleged behaviour of some staff as prompting the decision. The 168-year-old newspaper will donate all this weekend’s revenues to good causes and would not accept any paid advertising, he said. Hundreds of staff now face an uncertain future. However, Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International and former editor of the News of the World, has been allowed to keep her job despite widespread calls for her to be sacked. Last night she faced angry scenes at the paper as she broke the news to journalists. There were reports she had to be escorted from the offices by security guards for her protection. Rupert Murdoch and his family sacrificed the tabloid as they fought to salvage their company’s attempt to take over BSkyB, the satellite broadcaster, after the scandal resulted in growing political pressure for the Government to block the deal. Last night politicians warned that shutting the newspaper would not shut down the scandal, which they said would only end when those responsible for the hacking were brought to justice. It was made hours after the Metropolitan Police disclosed that more than 4,000 people had been identified as potential victims of private detectives employed by the paper. – Daily Telegraph

Coulson cops it

The Guardian understands that a second arrest is also to be made in the next few days of a former senior journalist at the paper. Leaks from News International forced police to speed up their plans to arrest the two key suspects in the explosive phone-hacking scandal. The Guardian knows the identity of the second suspect but is withholding the name to avoid prejudicing the police investigation. Coulson, who resigned as David Cameron‘s director of communications in January, was contacted on Thursday by detectives and asked to present himself at a police station in central London on Friday, where he will be told that he will be formally questioned under suspicion of involvement in hacking. After being questioned by detectives from Operation Weeting – a process that could take several hours – the former rising star of News International is likely to be released on bail conditions that include appearing at court at a later date along with his three former colleagues who have already been arrested: Ian Edmondson, Neville Thurlbeck and James Weatherup. The arrest will be embarrassing for Cameron, who consistently defended his decision to hire the controversial former journalist amid mounting evidence of his involvement in the hacking scandal. – the Guardian

Former News of the World editor and Downing Street spin chief Andy Coulson is today expected to be arrested over allegations he knew about phone hacking and bribing police officers. He is due to attend a police station ‘by appointment’ to be questioned about suspicions he directed or allowed staff to intercept mobile phone voicemails. Sources say that unless there is a last-minute change of plan, he is also likely to be questioned over claims he authorised the payment by journalists of tens of thousands of pounds to corrupt police officers. Supporters of Mr Coulson, 43, claim he has been ‘hung out to dry’ by News International bosses, including Rebekah Brooks, who is fighting desperately to keep her job. They believe that if he co-operates with police, he could make damaging claims about Mrs Brooks, who edited the News of the World before him, which in turn could result in her being questioned. One source linked to the police investigation said: ‘If Andy Coulson goes down, he could take some very senior people with him. He must know where the bodies are buried at News International.’ – Daily Mail

The end of self regulation?

Labour leader Ed Miliband will today call for the watchdog which oversees complaints about newspaper coverage to be scrapped and replaced. Mr Miliband will challenge the industry to come up with a different and more effective form of self regulation. “The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has totally failed,” Mr Miliband will say. “It has been exposed as a toothless poodle. It is time to put it out of its misery. A new body would need: far greater independence of its board members from those it regulates; proper investigative powers; and an ability to enforce corrections.” PCC director Stephen Abell said: “It is wrong of Mr Miliband to call for the scrapping of the PCC. His remarks are long on rhetoric and short on substance. He appears to be ignorant of the important and valued work of the PCC.  However, he is right to support self-regulation and to say that the phone-hacking scandal should act as a catalyst for improvement and reform of the industry.  Indeed, he is echoing the statement the PCC itself issued on Wednesday. We join with Mr Miliband in his call for the industry to support reform.  The PCC welcomes the challenge to respond to the issues at stake, and looks forward to discussing this further with Mr Miliband and his team.” – the Scotsman

Enduring image of the day, and, I’ll warrant, its first entry in Hansard*, goes to Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders for his contribution to yesterday’s emergency debate on phone hacking at the News of the World: “…when one considers the Press Complaints Commission, the phrase “chocolate teapot”, or indeed the phrase “fishnet condom”, comes to mind. Our 2007 inquiry had elicited a response from News International that it had carried out a full inquiry itself and was satisfied that the Mulcaire-Goodman case was isolated. That was patently untrue. Our second inquiry encountered more obstacles: Goodman and Mulcaire refused to present evidence, as did Rebekah Brooks. More worrying were the attitude and answers of Scotland Yard. I return to the point that I made to the Prime Minister today. We cannot have confidence in an investigation by the Metropolitan police; we can have confidence only in a full judicial inquiry with a judge who can take witnesses under oath, ask questions under oath, seek papers, and subpoena witnesses to appear. We desperately need that inquiry. Clearly, where there are allegations of criminal acts or there is the potential for collusion between suspects and the police, a more rigorous investigation is required than, sadly, a Select Committee can offer. It is also clear that we need to extend the scope beyond News International.” An exaggerated image to drive home a serious point that it’s time for the Press Complaints Commission to be reformed. You can read the BBC live-blog of the debate here. –

Twitter doesn’t please Mrs Bone

Twitter should find a way of allowing high-profile figures to label fake accounts set up in their own name, a Tory MP for Wellingborough has said, after pranksters started impersonating his wife on the micro-blogging website. Peter Bone has made a long-standing joke of asking questions in the Commons on behalf of his wife Jennie, who he has portrayed as the voice of Middle England. She is a vehement critic of the European Union but it was only when Prime Minister David Cameron remarked that a very big part of his life was spent “trying to give pleasure” to Mrs Bone, that her celebrity hit new heights. And following her regular mentions in newspaper columns it now appears that Mrs Bone has her own account on the micro-blogging site, in which she describes herself as “the voice of the silent majority”. She has more than 100 followers and her tweets include insights such as: “All eyes on PMQs – will Mr Cameron do his best to give me pleasure today? I live in hope.” In another tweet, she writes: “So proud of Peter on BBC News, expressing the horror felt by every right-thinking person on the disgraceful activities of the gutter press.” The only problem for Mr Bone is that his wife, whom he employs as his executive secretary and describes as his “one-woman focus group”, has never set up a Twitter account, and now he wants MPs to debate the problem of impersonation on the website. In a dig at Commons Speaker John Bercow, whose wife Sally is a notorious tweeter, Mr Bone said: “Mr Speaker, I don’t know if you tweet but can I direct you to a site called Mrs Jennie Bone which is being followed by more than 100 people, included journalists and MPs? It’s very interesting and very amusing. There is one slight problem: it’s completely bogus. This seems to me to be a really important issue where people are taking other names and purporting (to be them). They may be saying very interesting and funny things at the moment, but they could put something racist or pornographic on there at any time.” – Market Rasen Mail

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Thursday News Review

07/07/2011, 06:56:51 AM

Ed forces Dave into a hole

The atmosphere in the chamber for PMQs today was rather unusual. As the loud chatter silenced for the weekly ritual of honouring the dead, I’m sure I was not the only one wondering if the noise would return. David Cameron is under as much pressure as he ever has been for his relationship with Rebekah Brooks, but how on earth was Ed Miliband supposed to raise it, without sounding like he was making too much political capital out of a scandal? Unusually, Miliband got it about right. He started slowly, noting that the “whole country” would be “appalled” by the “immoral and disgraceful” conduct of the News of the World. He then pressed the PM on the need for an inquiry, noting Mr Cameron’s positive responses respectfully, even in the face of shrieks from a few Labour backbenchers. Cleverly, he tried to cajole David Cameron into a stronger commitment than Cameron evidently wanted – to “start the process now”. Instead of charging in with a chainsaw, Ed made a careful first incision. Then he injected the poison. “The PM must realise that the public will react with disbelief if the deal [for News International to buy BSkyB] goes ahead,” he said, forcing Mr Cameron into a rather technical defence of Jeremy Hunt’s decision making. “This is not the time for technicalities,” shouted Ed. That prompted guffaws from the Tory benches. But Ed was right – it wasn’t, and Cameron was trapped. – Daily Telegraph

David Cameron and Nick Clegg are wrangling over the membership and status of the inquiries that will be held into illegal phone hacking at the News of the World and wider questions about the future of media regulation. The prime minister bowed to pressure to hold at least one inquiry but is resisting calls from Clegg for a judge to take charge. The differences between Clegg and Cameron came as the government faced calls from across the Commons as well as from City shareholders to delay its final decision on the proposed takeover of BSkyB by News Corporation, parent company of the News of the World. Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, gave the provisional go-ahead for the deal last Friday, subject to a final seven-day consultation over plans to hive off Sky News as a separately listed company to allay plurality fears. Hunt is due to consider thousands of pages of documents submitted during the consultation. He will then make a decision – which could be delayed into the summer recess – after consultations with Ofcom and the OFT. The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, took the momentous step of turning against Rupert Murdoch‘s empire, calling for the resignation of News International‘s chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, and demanding the BSkyB decision be referred to the Competition Commission. – the Guardian

There were signs of panic in Downing Street last night as the Prime Minister faced mounting pressure from all political parties to block the plans by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation to take full ownership of BSkyB because of the phone hacking scandal engulfing his UK newspaper group. One insider said: “We are looking for a way out on the takeover. But it isn’t easy to find one. The timing is just awful.” A Tory minister said: “David Cameron is well aware of how damaging the issue of the takeover is to him and to the Government. There is real anxiety in No 10.” Some MPs believe there could be discreet contacts between Downing Street and senior News Corp figures urging the company to suspend its bid. Senior Liberal Democrats pressed the Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to limit the damage to the Coalition by derailing News Corp’s bid to buy the 61 per cent of BSkyB it does not already own. Government officials insist Mr Hunt can only block the deal on media plurality grounds. Some ministers hope that media regulator Ofcom will spare their blushes by halting the takeover because the hacking scandal shows News Corp would not be a “fit and proper” owner of BSkyB. – the Independent

Shocking turn as war widows messages were listened to

A phone-hacking scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch’s media empire grew on Thursday with claims that Britain’s top-selling tabloid may have listened to the voicemail of relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. News International, the parent company of the News of the World tabloid, said it would be contacting the Defence Ministry after a report in the Daily Telegraph that the phone numbers of British soldiers were found in the files of a private investigator jailed for hacking phones. “If these allegations are true we are absolutely appalled and horrified,” it said in a statement. Rose Gentle, the mother of fusilier Gordon Gentle, killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq’s oil port of Basra in 2004, told the BBC she was “totally disgusted” by the allegations. “I’d never buy that paper again, if this is true, they need to be brought to justice for this, they need to pay for this,” she said. In a further twist to the affair, a spokesman for Finance Minister George Osborne said police had told the minister his name and home phone number were in notes kept by two people jailed for phone hacking. – Reuters

The Daily Telegraph has learnt that the personal details of the families of servicemen who died on the front line have been found in the files of Glenn Mulcaire, the private detective working for the Sunday tabloid. The disclosure that grieving relatives of war dead were targets for the newspaper prompted anger among military charities, who said it was a “disgusting and indefensible assault on privacy”. The Metropolitan Police is facing growing calls from the families of murder victims, those killed in terrorist attacks and those who died in natural disasters, such as the Indonesian tsunami, to disclose if they were targets. Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the News of the World and now chief executive of News International, its parent company, faced calls from Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, to step down. Yesterday The Daily Telegraph disclosed that families of victims of the July 7 bombings were targets for Mulcaire in the days after the atrocity in 2005. – Daily Telegraph

A new era of transparency?

Taxpayers are to be given access to information on all aspects of the performance of schools, GPs, hospitals, police, courts and prisons. Ministers will today announce an ‘information revolution’ which they say will make centrally-imposed targets across public services redundant. People will be invited to judge for themselves whether schools or GP surgeries are up to scratch using data currently hidden from scrutiny. In health, information on the prescribing data and comparative clinical outcomes of GP practices will be published from December this year. Details of complaints made against every NHS hospital – so that patients can use the experiences of other patients to judge whether they want to be treated there – will be available from October. From next April, success and failure rates of doctors in treating all major medical conditions will be available, as will data on the quality of their post-graduate medical education. In education, data enabling parents to see how effective their school is at teaching high, average and low attaining pupils across a range of subjects will be published from next January. Anonymised data from the National Pupil Database to help parents and pupils to monitor the performance of their schools in depth will be available from next June. – Daily Mail

Ministers are to publish all spending on government credit cards in order to expose profligacy and waste as part of new plans to reveal swaths of government data showing low-performing schools, GP services and transport services. The Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude will announce plans on Thursday to publish millions of new data items, from prescription rates at specific GP surgeries to how well individual schools are teaching low and high-attaining pupils. It will allow patients to shop around for the surgery most likely to prescribe an expensive drug, or parents to find out which school is best for high achievers or pupils with special educational needs. Ministers want this information about public services to drive competition as people become more informed “consumers” of government-funded services. The publication of the data comes after last year’s spending was released under the Freedom of Information Act, revealing £25m of previously secret spending by Whitehall officials in the year that the government implemented its deficit reduction programme. David Cameron has written to ministers setting out the plans. “We recognise that open data and transparency can be a powerful tool to help reform public services, foster innovation, empower citizens … we also understand that transparency can be a significant driver of economic activity,” he said. “These commitments represent the most ambitious open data agenda of any government in the world.” Maude said: “Information enables choice – which creates competition which drives up standards. The new commitments represent a quantum leap in government transparency and will radically help to drive better public services.” – the Guardian

Well done Tom

Labour MP Tom Watson was named as Commons select committee member of the year at the House magazine awards on Thursday evening. At an awards ceremony in the Robing Room attended by peers, MPs and members of the press gallery, Watson was honoured for using his membership of the culture committee to push for further investigation of the phone hacking allegations. MPs and peers voted for the winners, with the press deciding who would win minister of the year. Watson said he learnt much about select committees when he first entered parliament and served under the chairmanship of Chris Mullin on the home affairs committee. He cited as a “pre-requisite” for effective committee members both an obsessional approach to policy and “an eye for the big picture”. David Davis, presenting the award to Watson, said he is proof that “a select committee member can turn the world upside down”. –

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Editorial: Neither Coulson nor Cameron is the real story

21/01/2011, 01:27:13 PM

Andy Coulson has now resigned from two massive jobs for something he says he knew nothing about.

On 23 November, Tom Watson predicted on Uncut that Andy Coulson would resign “within the next few weeks”. In the end, it was eight weeks. They moved the date back in response to Watson’s article.

On 12 January, Watson revealed on Uncut that the working date within Downing Street for Coulson’s departure was now 25 January. He has resigned on 21 January. The opportunity of a Friday combining Blair at the Chilcot enquiry with the aftermath of the Johnson resignation all but obliged them to bring it forward by the width of a weekend.

And Rupert Murdoch is due to be in London next week. He is sick of the scandal swirling more and more distastefully around his (distasteful) family business. He believes that it has been mishandled by his minions. Did he send word that the Coulson embarrassment (the only easy bit to fix) should be cleared up before he arrives?

Many people – including the prime minister’s official spokesman, on the record – dismissed Tom Watson’s intelligence as rubbish. It was not. Watson was telling the truth; Cameron and his people were brazenly lying.

Coulson’s official spokesman, Nick Robinson of the BBC, has said – as has most of the rest of the Lobby – that the worst damage this will do David Cameron is to deprive him of Andy Coulson’s expertise. (more…)

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Saturday News Review

18/12/2010, 09:12:04 AM

Government’s immigration policy “chaos”

A temporary cap on the number of skilled workers from outside the EU allowed into the UK was introduced “unlawfully”, the High Court has ruled. Home Secretary Theresa May introduced the cap this summer as an interim measure ahead of a permanent cap. But a legal challenge to it was upheld with judges ruling that ministers had “sidestepped” Parliamentary scrutiny. The Home Office said this did not imperil its flagship immigration policy but Labour said it was in “chaos”. The BBC’s Home Affairs Correspondent Danny Shaw said the ruling was an embarrassment and a setback for the coalition but was not a fatal blow to its plan for a permanent cap on non-EU migration. – BBC

Critics say the ruling is important for British business as the current cap is damaging industry in the UK. The changes were deliberately intended to give the minister flexibility and the ability to change the numbers allowed in to work, without having to go before Parliament for scrutiny. Lord Justice Sullivan said: “The Secretary of State made no secret of her intentions. There can be no doubt that she was attempting to sidestep provisions for Parliamentary scrutiny set up under provisions of the 1971 Immigration Act, and her attempt was for that reason unlawful.” The changes introduced were substantive and should have been laid before Parliament, he said. – Press Association

Actress files dossier on hacking

The past week has seen several more twists in the Andy Coulson saga. Far from resolving the allegations surrounding the UK prime minister’s principal media adviser, they have only served to muddy the waters further… There remains a need for a deeper inquiry. An independent review of the police investigations would be a start. The Miller claim also raises questions about News International. Its executives have told a parliamentary committee that only one journalist was involved in the hacking. Ms Miller’s dossier casts doubt on this. Mr Coulson’s position is not untenable. It may be true that, as he claims, he was unaware of what his staff were up to. He made that claim again this week – under oath as a witness in the perjury trial of a former Scottish politician. But while the drip of claim and counter-claim continues, this affair cannot be put to rest. And without a resolution, it will continue to undermine Mr Coulson’s credibility and, by extension, that of the prime minister. – The FT

The document suggests that the hacking of the two actors was part of a wider scheme, hatched early in 2005, when Mulcaire agreed to use ”electronic intelligence and eavesdropping” to supply the paper with daily transcripts of the messages of a list of named targets from the worlds of politics, royalty and entertainment. The evidence explicitly contradicts the account of the News of the World and its former editor Andy Coulson, who is now chief media adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron. They claimed that Goodman was the only journalist involved in phone hacking. He and Mulcaire were jailed in 2007. The disclosure is embarrassing for Scotland Yard, which has held a large cache of evidence for more than four years but failed to investigate it. – Sydney Morning Herald

Cameron discourages Tories in Oldham East

The best tactic for beating Labour might seem to be for the Tories quietly to encourage their supporters to fall in behind Mr Watkins. However, his share of the vote fell in 2010. The reason the contest was so close was that a chunk of the Labour vote defected to the Tory, Kashif Ali. With the Lib Dems in trouble nationally, many of the Tories argue that Mr Ali is the more credible challenger. So they will not have been pleased to hear what David Cameron had to say yesterday: “The context of the by-election is that the MP elected at the election has been found in court to have told complete untruths about his opponent… In that context, we wish our partners well. They had an extremely tough time. All the unfairnesses and untruths about their candidate [Mr Watkins] – he’s now been exonerated. So of course I wish them well.” He did not sound like a leader intent on victory. – The Independent

The prime minister yesterday appeared to slacken Conservative resolve in the forthcoming Oldham East and Saddleworth byelection, doling out generous words for the Lib Dems’ election effort. Liberal Democrats have been canvassing hard in the constituency for the seven months since the general election victory there by Labour‘sPhil Woolas, which they immediately set about contesting. Nick Clegg’s party missed out on the seat by just 104 votes in May, but the result was declared void last month by an election court that found that Woolas had made false statements about his Lib Dem rival Elwyn Watkins. This week, the Liberal Democrats defied convention to call the date of the byelection, when it is usually the incumbent party who move the writ. – The Guardian

What a principled bunch

Nick Clegg’s position should be understood and forgiven. He is instinctively a conservative, and he should not be blamed for following his heart and head. It is the so-called progressives who have betrayed what they once insisted were their principles. A half-hearted revolt over student fees is not enough to salvage their reputation. Nor is Simon Hughes’s occasional grand-standing about coalition policies that he never actually opposes. No Lib Dem who was offered a place in the government declined to serve. No groups have been formed within the party to oppose the coalition in principle. Danny Alexander is the boy who stands on George Osborne’s burning deck and Vince Cable is the self-appointed captain of David Cameron’s praetorian guard. – The Guardian

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