Posts Tagged ‘Gus O’Donnell’

Hunt memo proves David Cameron manipulated the BSkyB bid process to favour the Murdochs

25/05/2012, 09:27:51 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Although the media focus this morning is still on Jeremy Hunt, the real story should be about David Cameron’s conduct.  The reason? The already infamous Hunt memo to Cameron, from November 2010, is a game-changer.

For the first time there is clear evidence that the prime minister, as opposed to a junior cabinet minister or special adviser, directly manipulated the quasi-judicial process considering News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB, in favour of the Murdochs.

When David Cameron stripped Vince Cable of responsibility for adjudicating on the bid in December 2010, he understood he would face a problem in simply handing over the process to Jeremy Hunt at DCMS.

Hunt was well-known as an admirer of News Corporation: while in opposition he had given a breathless interview to Broadcast magazine where he had eulogised about Rupert Murdoch,

“Rather than worry about Rupert Murdoch owning another TV channel, what we should recognise is that he has probably done more to create variety and choice in British TV than any other single person because of his huge investment in setting up Sky TV which, at one point, was losing several million pounds a day”.

Shortly after Hunt became secretary of state, he had followed-up in June 2010 in an interview with the Financial Times where he speculated on the BSkyB bid,

“It does seem to me that News Corp do control Sky already, so it isn’t clear to me that in terms of media plurality there is a substantive change, but I don’t want to second guess what regulators might decide.”

Cameron knew these comments would inevitably surface and be used by Labour to challenge Hunt’s ability to manage the process impartially. The prime minister needed cover for his decision and turned to his cabinet secretary, who duly obliged.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Gus O’Donnell gives Leveson his prescription for media mismanagement

15/05/2012, 07:00:22 AM

by Atul Hatwal

A little tidbit from Gus O’Donnell’s written evidence at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday:

“When Alastair Campbell was appointed Director of Communications at Number 10, an Order in Council granted him the power to instruct civil servants. I thought that the power was an inappropriate one for a special adviser to have. I felt it was important to have a good civil servant as the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson, without any outré Orders in Council. Civil servants are more able to achieve impartiality in briefing and avoid being drawn into political briefing. They have conducted all press briefings on behalf of the Government since that time – Gordon Brown stuck with that approach and so has his successor.”

O’Donnell clearly felt he was making a telling point. A political appointee directing civil servants was such a self-evidently bad thing that neither of Tony Blair’s successors had chosen to repeat this ill-starred experiment.

That’s one view.

Alternately, part of the reason that press coverage of each of Tony Blair’s successors has careened off the rails so violently is that there hasn’t been a single, partisan media chief in control of the government communications machine since Alastair Campbell.

Gordon Brown and David Cameron have each appointed media advisers, but with a limited reach across Whitehall.

The vast empire of hundreds of departmental press officers has been outside of Number 10’s purview. This army of media managers reports up through the civil service hierarchy, independent of the government’s political operation.

It’s an important distinction. Despite the frequent and genuine pleas from civil servants to their ministers that all they want to do is serve them effectively, ultimately, departmental press officers’ future career advancement is in the hands of the mandarins.

That means they are beholden to different masters.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Friday News Review

15/07/2011, 07:04:40 AM

Murdoch’s woes cross the pond

The investigation into criminal behaviour by journalists at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp crossed the Atlantic yesterday as the FBI opened an inquiry into claims that the News of the World tried to hack the phones of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As News Corp’s shares slid in New York and legal problems threatened to engulf the rest of his media empire, Mr Murdoch launched a vigorous defence of his own handling of the scandal and of the conduct of his son, James. The FBI opened the inquiry after sustained pressure from both Republican and Democrat politicians, who expressed outrage at the claims that 9/11 victims could have been among the NOTW’s targets. The FBI is following claims first made in the Daily Mirror at the start of this week that NOTW journalists contacted a former New York police officer, now working as a private investigator, and offered to pay him to retrieve the phone records of those killed in the 2001 terrorist attacks. Police sources said the investigation is at a preliminary stage. – the Independent

Media baron Rupert Murdoch‘s troubles are spreading across the pond from Britain to the USA. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into allegations that Murdoch’s News Corp. tried to hack into the phone messages of U.S. 9/11 victims and families, a federal law enforcement official said Thursday. The official, who has been briefed on the matter but declined to be identified because he is not authorized to speak publicly, said the review was based on concerns raised by Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., and Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., among others. King, who heads the Homeland Security Committee, is from a Long Island district that was home to many victims of the terrorist attacks in 2001. The lawmakers suggest that allegations against News Corp. in Great Britain— including paying off British law enforcement authorities for news tips — violated theForeign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it a crime for companies with U.S. holdings to bribe foreign officials. They also want to know whether any U.S. citizens’ privacy was violated. – USA Today

Will they, won’t they?

Rupert and James Murdoch capitulated to Parliament last night and agreed to appear before MPs investigating phone hacking after facing the bizarre threat of imprisonment in a cell halfway up Big Ben. The media tycoon and his heir apparent had prompted fury at Westminster after declining an invitation to give evidence to a powerful Commons select committee next week. As a near-hysterical mood gripped the Commons, there were even suggestions that Parliament should somehow ‘impound’ Mr Murdoch’s private jet to prevent him leaving the country. With an unprecedented legal summons from Parliament’s most senior officials forcing them into a dramatic U-turn, Business Secretary Vince Cable said the humbling of the Murdoch empire was ‘a little bit like the end of a dictatorship’. The last time such as summons was issued was in 1992 when Kevin and Ian Maxwell were ordered to answer questions relating to their late father Robert’s plundering of the Mirror Group pension pot. A News Corporation spokesperson said: ‘We are in the process of writing to the select committee with the intention that Mr James Murdoch and Mr Rupert Murdoch will attend next Tuesday’s meeting.’ James, the chief of his father’s European and Asian operations, had said he was not available Tuesday but offered to appear on Aug 10 or 11, without explaining his inability to attend next week. While Rupert Murdoch had said he would not appear at all offering instead to speak before a separate inquiry initiated by the Prime Minister. That left former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks facing the prospect of being grilled on her own by MPs scenting blood. – Daily Mail

Rupert Murdoch and his son James last night caved into pressure from David Cameron, Nick Clegg and MPs and agreed to give evidence to a Commons select committee next week. They will be joined by Rebekah Brooks, the News International Chief Executive, in what will be the most eagerly anticipated hearing at Westminster for decades. Both Rupert Murdoch, News Corporation’s chairman and chief executive, and James had initially said they would not be attending next Tuesday’s meeting of the Culture Media and Sport Committee. James, who is News International’s European chairman, said he could only attend at a later date. But after a six-hour stand off, and with pressure from MPs, the Prime Minister and the deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and faced with being sent a summons by the Serjeant at Arms, both men relented and agreed to attend. The three executives will face fierce questioning from MPs who have fought a tenacious campaign to expose the phone hacking scandal which has plunged Mr Murdoch’s media into crisis in the space of two weeks. Among them will be Tom Watson, the Labour MP, who has relentlessly pursued News International and has made clear his own disgust at the behaviour of Mrs Brooks in particular. – Daily Telegraph

Clegg and O’Donnell turn on Brown

Nick Clegg today accused Gordon Brown of “rewriting history” by claiming his desire for a hacking investigation was thwarted by MPs and civil servants. The former prime minister accused News International yesterday of forming a “criminal-media nexus” with members of Britain’s underworld. He told the Commons he had tried to hold a judicial inquiry into phone hacking shortly before the general election last year but was opposed by Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Home Office and the police. Mr Brown said he was advised that media culture was permissive of unlawful activities and the Commons culture committee did not believe hacking was continuing. He claimed he was also told there was no evidence of systemic failure in the police and that targeting The News of the World could be deemed to be politically motivated. Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg said today: “I sensed a whiff of rewriting history, to be honest. If as prime minister he’d really be so determined to get to grips with this – and he was a powerful Chancellor – he was at the apex of British politics for 13 years … Are we now supposed to believe he was hamstrung by dastardly officials who stopped him doing that? There were many other things he wanted to do where he was happy to bulldoze the opposition but he didn’t seek to do so on this particular issue.” – Evening Standard

The cabinet secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, has denied claims he blocked an inquiry into phone hacking sought by former prime minister Gordon Brown just before the May 2010 general election. He also released his full advice to Brown setting out the options, which was sent to Brown’s principal private secretary, Jeremy Heywood, in March 2010. In his first major speech in the House of Commons since he resigned as prime minister last year, Brown said on Wednesday: “I deeply regret my inability to do then what I wanted to do and to overturn the advice of all the authorities and set up a judicial inquiry.” O’Donnell said: “I gave advice based on the evidence that was available at the time. It was for the prime minister to decide what to do. I set out options. My advice is clear and was based on the evidence available at the time, and I would have taken the same decision now if I had the same evidence as I had then.” O’Donnell also pointed out to Brown that if an investigation were called so close to a general election, there would be no possibility of a judicial inquiry producing a result in time. In his document marked “restricted” O’Donnell set out the necessary steps to be taken before an inquiry was launched and whether in this case such an inquiry would be merited. – the Guardian

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Who the hell does Gus O’Donnell think he is?

11/04/2011, 08:06:21 AM

by Tom Harris

Revelations that head of the civil service, Sir Gus O’Donnell, blocked a judicial inquiry into allegations of phone hacking by the News of the World, prompts the urgent question: who the hell does he think he is?

According to the Guardian, O’Donnell considered that by the autumn of 2009, the general election was imminent and therefore an inquiry would be too politically sensitive, given that former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, was now spinning for David Cameron.

Well, so what? If something is so serious that it warrants investigation, then it should be investigated, irrespective of the political timetable. In fact, the proximity of Coulson to power at that point should have made an inquiry more imperative, not less. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Government rides roughshod over civil service rulebook

02/03/2011, 10:34:44 AM

by Tom Watson

New answers to FoI requests released to me this week, show that the cabinet office has breached the civil service recruitment principles 30 times to make appointments, using an exemption to the rules aimed at helping the unemployed.

Exception one of the civil service code has been used to appoint people like Katharine Davidson, Michael Lynas, Kris Murrin and Rishi Saha, who formerly held political posts in the Tory and Lib Dem parties.

Rishi Saha is head of the government’s “digital communications”. How can the interests of the civil service be served by allowing a post like this to be filled without a trawl of the very best digital specialists in the country?

More importantly, how could cabinet secretary, Gus O’Donnell, have allowed his appointment to take place? It’s a clear breach, one where the interest of government is not served by making a political appointment to a non-political job.

Civil servants will feel very uncomfortable reading the new figures. The cabinet office refused to give me the names of 30 people on the list but I have a hunch that a number of them are also former staffers from the political parties. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Lib Dem minister forced to apologise in response to Labour by-election complaint

13/01/2011, 05:02:50 PM

Gus O’Donnell’s Email To John Trickett

January 12, 19.34

From: Gus O’Donnell
To: Jon Trickett MP

Mr Trickett

Thank you for your email sent on Monday evening about an announcement during a by-election campaign on new Government incentives to bring empty homes back into use.

I have looked urgently into the issues you raise.

The sequence of events as I have been able to establish is as follows:

Communities and Local Government (CLG) issued a press release on Friday 7 January announcing additional Government funding to bring empty homes back into use. The press release was embargoed until Monday 10 January. This was a national announcement which made no reference to Oldham and therefore would not be in breach of by-election restrictions.

Andrew Stunell visited Oldham on Saturday 8 January. As part of this he visited an empty property in Oldham that had been brought back into use by the Council. I understand that he did not refer to the planned funding announcement during his visit.

The Liberal Democrat Party issued a press release on Sunday 9 January, embargoed until Monday 10 January, referring to the Minister’s visit and highlighting new government incentives to bring empty homes back into use. This was timed to coincide with the issue of the Government’s press release.

Taking these events together, the Minister recognises with hindsight that his visit could have been associated in the minds of the public with a government announcement of additional funding, and has apologised for this.

Gus O’Donnell

Cabinet Secretary

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Tom Watson: Who paid Andy Coulson’s legal fees?

12/12/2010, 01:00:43 PM

If you can’t see the letter in the document viewer below, the plain text version is here.

Gus O Donnell Andy Coulson Legal Fees

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon