Posts Tagged ‘hacking’

Labour’s strategy for dealing with The Sun is ludicrous

29/09/2014, 12:15:05 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Last week, The Sun newspaper ran a feature inviting each party leader to wear a wristband showing their support for the Help for Heroes charity. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage featured. Ed Miliband did not.

There are conflicting accounts about exactly what happened, with the paper maintaining it made several attempts to secure the Labour Leader’s buy-in; while party sources claim they weren’t given enough time to comply with the request. In the event, the paper ran its front page piece, with a blank space reserved for Miliband, blaming his no-show on a “fear of offending Labour lefties.”

Amid the accusations and counter-accusations, what is clear is that the party’s explanation for not co-operating – citing Ed Miliband’s prior diary commitments – was disingenuous nonsense. It would have taken a press officer five seconds to grab a quick photo. But worse than being disingenuous, it was stupid, too, given the paper would inevitably “empty chair” Miliband for refusing to participate.

In fact, it was so obvious how things would turn out that there must have been a deeper motive. Indeed, there remain many voices in the party that want to boycott the paper as punishment for its coverage of the Hillsborough tragedy as well as the illegal phone-hacking scandal; and the party’s strategy is clearly driven by these considerations.

But boycotting The Sun is a disastrous tactic, the worst form of gesture politics. What’s the desired result? To make a principled stand against the quality of its journalism? To hurt Rupert Murdoch commercially? Of course, if anyone’s serious about punishing Murdoch or boycotting The Sun, then why not its News UK stablemate, The Times, as well? Or, better still, cancel your Sky subscription.

Worse, Labour’s approach is unevenly implemented. Ed Miliband was content to pose with a World Cup edition of the paper back in June before u-turning and apologising for doing so after ruffling the feathers of some within the party.

Disgusting though The Sun’s coverage of Hillsborough was, many other papers at the time published similar slurs against Liverpool football fans, egged on by media briefings given by South Yorkshire Police. And now the Mirror Group has conceded that some if its staff were also eavesdropping on private voicemails, so will Labour figures shun The Mirror, too?


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Never mind Brooks, Chilcot is set to make 2014 Blair’s annus horibilis

26/02/2014, 10:49:37 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Last week’s row over his telephone conversation with Rebekah Brooks and the alleged offer of behind-the scenes help doesn’t really tell us anything we did not already know about Tony Blair.

Even in retirement, he moves in rarefied circles and the lure of being at the centre of the action, (albeit in what he thought was a private capacity), helps dull the boredom of being just 60 and having his best political days long behind him.

Of course, there is no post-career plan that will ever satisfy someone like Tony Blair. The most accomplished political communicator of his generation and a figure who has single-handedly defined our understanding of the modern-day Premiership, his life after Number 10 was always going to be a long, protracted anti-climax.

What do you do when there are no more 4am moments, or press conferences to prep for, or crises in the Northern Ireland peace process that require your personal intervention?

Indeed, who actually made the phone call that Rebekah Brooks so assiduously took notes from? Did Blair himself phone and offer his services to her and the Murdochs? Or did he eagerly take Brooks’ call, knowing it was unlikely she was phoning for a catch-up to see how his role as the Quartet’s under-employed negotiator on the Middle East was shaping up?

Blair’s advice to her – establish a credible independent investigation with the aim of establishing wrong-doing, but hopefully not serious criminality – was smart and cynical, but pretty sound counsel nonetheless. He has a big future as a public affairs consultant.


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Oh dear Tony. Oh dear.

19/02/2014, 05:43:42 PM

by Atul Hatwal

If Rebekah Brooks’ e-mail to James Murdoch does give a fair account of her conversation with Tony Blair, then he’s been a very foolish ex-prime minister.

It’s not so much the apparent cynicism of the advice on how to manage the process, or even the reference to Hutton (which might be Brooks’ interpretation rather than a direct reference by Blair) but the crushing, ghastly, inescapable lack of judgement. What did he think he was doing?

One of the worst aspects of politics is the faux comity within which work relationships become wrapped.

It was evident at the Huhne trial in the cringeworthy string of BFF e-mails between Vicky Pryce and Isabel Oakeshott, where they discuss having a “fun” mini-break in Greece to work through the details of the story to bring down Huhne.

The chummy undercurrent is wholly at odds with the reality of what is happening.  These types of exchanges are not friends having a little chitter chatter, they are work transactions of significant gravity. Each participant has something the other wants. At stake are careers, livelihoods, and in the case of the Huhne fiasco, people’s liberty.

But it is the argot in which much modern politics is conducted and in Tony Blair’s case, he seems to have mistaken the artifice of sociability for the substance for friendship.


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Murdoch – sympathy for the devil?

02/08/2011, 09:05:22 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Ever since that bright Friday morning on 10 April 1992 I have maintained a blood oath. As I woke following Labour’s fourth consecutive general election defeat – robbed by Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid snipers at The Sun – who picked off our leaders and traduced our policies with heartless precision – I swore revenge.

So, in the spirit of “think global, act local”, I have never bought a copy of The Sun from that day to this. As an occupational hazard I read it from time to time, as I do The Times, but my conscience is clear; I never shelled out cash for either paper.

Rupert Murdoch is deprived of my few shillings in protest at his malign impact on our public life. The only flaw in my otherwise spotless moral universe is purchasing The Sunday Times. I have not worked out a way around that one yet (well it is the Sunday papers, after all).

But there’s no Sky TV in the Meagher household. Even though, following BSkyB’s acquisition, I now miss out on the oeuvre of cult US cable station HBO, I will not budge. My nineteen year boycott of (nearly) all things related to the Dirty Digger remains resolute.

I am not alone. For many on the left Murdoch is a member of the pantheon of the detested; up there with Thatcher, Tebbit and Powell. The late Dennis Potter even called the cancer that was killing him “Rupert” as a reminder of the man he despised for his coarsening effect on British popular culture.

But does there come a point when there is no more hate left to give? Over these past few weeks I have come to realise that my spleen is all vented out. I am content, rather, to win on points. The octogenarian Rupert Murdoch will now go to his maker under the cloud of an investigation of one kind or another.

He will be lucky to fend off investors who are tired of his antics and the way he runs his business like a personal fief; or US authorities who take a dim view of companies bribing public officials in whatever jurisdiction. The end game for Rupert Murdoch seems nigh.


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Tom Watson is readers’ hackgate hero

25/07/2011, 08:00:54 AM

In a close fought contest, Tom Watson has emerged as the Uncut readers’ hackgate hero.  His intervention on David Cameron during the Parliamentary statement was the public’s choice for goal of the month with 26% of the vote, 4% ahead of his other entry, the questioning of Rupert Murdoch at the Select Committee which secured 22%.

Ed Miliband’s pivotal PMQ performance from the start of July was joint third with Dennis Skinner on 20% of the vote, followed by Steve Coogan on 12%.

In voting throughout Friday, Ed Miliband built up a solid lead over the chasing pack, but was overhauled on Saturday by Watson’s two entries. Despite a late rally on Sunday, Miliband was not able to catch Watson.

The vote reflects the pivotal role Tom Watson has played in doggedly pursuing this issue for the past few years as well as the quality of his contributions in the Parliamentary statement and the Select Committee hearing.

As the scandal has unfolded, the twittersphere has been abuzz with who would play the central characters in the inevitable movie. This being a British scandal, the casting choices are somewhat different to the Redford and Hoffman partnership in All The President’s Men.

Currently the hot favourite to pick up the plum part of Tom Watson is Nick Frost.

They’ve been tweeting and agreeing though who Simon Pegg will play remains unclear. But given the nature of a scandal which continues to grow and grow, there are bound to be some new casting opportunities that emerge in the coming days.

Chief amongst these will potentially be the role of George Osborne. Studiously silent throughout proceedings so far, he has all the makings of a villain who emerges in the third reel as the puppet master, pulling the strings. (more…)

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Goal of the month: hacking special

22/07/2011, 08:36:23 AM

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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Cameron’s on the ropes, but he will last the distance

21/07/2011, 04:13:40 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The parliamentary recess will be greeted by the prime minister in exactly the same way a wounded boxer welcomes the end of a gruelling round. Winded, bloodied and blurry-eyed, the prime minister staggers back to his corner. His legs are like lead. His arms ache. His body is battered and sore.

He put up a spirited defence in the Commons yesterday – penance for bobbing and weaving out of fronting-up the hacking issue on behalf of the government these past few weeks – but he is behind on points.

Despite his combativeness and bluster the reigning champ looked ring rusty. Belligerent where he should have been contrite, he struggled to read the fight and walked on the end of punches he is seasoned enough to avoid. His pledge to apologise if Andy Coulson is eventually found guilty of sanctioning phone hacking simply risks storing up the mea culpa to end all apologies.

“I’m enjoying this” he proclaimed amid the stinging blows; (an insensitive boast given the thousands of innocent victims swept in the phone hacking scandal) and a curious formulation for an under-fire Tory leader as it was last used by Margaret Thatcher in her swansong Commons performance.

Cameron’s technique, punching power and the strength of his chin have all been sorely tested these past few weeks – and more often than not they have been found lacking. As the unfortunate British heavyweight David Haye found to his cost against Wladimir Klitschko the other week, talking a good fight is not enough. (more…)

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Commons Sketch: Cameron’s escape

20/07/2011, 06:23:38 PM

by Dan Hodges

And with a single bound, he was free. Well, at least that was the plan.

David Cameron had been cornered. After a week on the run he had finally been tracked down to the Southern-most tip of the Dark Continent.

“The world has changed”, we are told. Well it may have, or it may not. But when a Conservative prime minister runs half way round the globe to find political solace in the arms of the ANC, you know something is up.

Yet while he could run, he could not hide. And hounded by a vengeful head of the metropolitan police, a rejuvenated Labour leader, and an increasingly worried and fractious Tory party, he was forced to turn and face his pursuers.

They met at the despatch box of the house of commons. There is a myth that our prime minister is a natural performer in the chamber. In reality he often appears poorly briefed, distracted and easily provoked.

But credit where credit is due. Where many men would have been cowed, David Cameron came out fighting. “A torrent”, of allegations had burst forth, he said. He would confront them all. He apologised to the speaker, but his response would be lengthy and fulsome. It was what the country demanded, and deserved.

He announced a panel of inquiry to look into the allegations that brought the British establishment to its knees. The greatest political scandal for a generation would be investigated by Shami Chakrabarti, Elinor Goodman and George Jones. A grateful nation let out an audible sigh. Shami, Elinor and George. There would be no whitewash in Whitehall.

Then it was time to deal with the personal allegations that had been made against him. Or rather those made against his chief of staff. Ed Llewellyn had been asked by the metropolitan police whether the prime minister wanted a briefing on possible corruption and law breaking that penetrated to the heart of Downing Street. Not on your nellie, Ed had replied. Quite right too, said the PM. There would have been “justifiable outrage” had he attempted to investigate this cancer at the heart of his government.

There had also been allegations made against a man called Neil Wallis, a former police officer who had done a brief stint of consultancy as deputy editor of the News of the World. Somewhere in between his busy schedule he’d managed to slip in the odd bit of work for the Tory party. “To the best of my knowledge”, said the prime minister, “I did not know anything about this until Sunday night”. The fact that the leader of the Conservative party hadn’t a clue who’d been working for him had the Tory back benches roaring in delight.

There was one final point he needed to address. Andy Coulson. Serious allegations had been made against him, said the prime minister. If they were proven he would be arrested, charged, incarcerated, hung, drawn and quartered and have his entrails scattered to the winds. It would be fitting. He would have lied to him, the police, a select committee and court of law. It was a terrible mistake to have ever employed this cad. With hindsight, he should never have touched him with a barge pole. “But”, he said, “I have an old fashioned belief that you are innocent until proven guilty”. Andy Coulson would no doubt have been delighted to hear it.

Ed Miliband rose. You can always tell if Ed is going to be a little off his game. He starts to speak with an exaggerated precision. So when his first words sounded like the leader of the Labour party had been kidnapped and replaced by a slightly nasal speak your weight machine, we feared the worst. In fairness, there were a couple of moments when it looked like he was starting to pin Cameron down. But just as he did, smack, he’d run right into an answer the prime minister had just given.

“He’s clearly written his questions before listening to my answers”, taunted Cameron. You could see the relief flowing from him. Behind him it was cascading down the government benches like a wave.

He’d done it. He was free.

Then a figure in a dirty raincoat rose from the Labour benches. “Er…prime minister. Before you go. I forgot. Just one more thing”. It was Tom Watson. The prime minister claimed he hadn’t been warned about Coulson. But that wasn’t true. And he, Tom Watson, had the letter to prove it.

Cameron attempted to brush him aside.

“Not so fast”. It was Dennis Skinner. The prime minister has been asked twice if he had discussed the BSKyB merger. He hadn’t answered the question. So had he discussed it? Or hadn’t he?

The prime minister again tried to dodge his inquisitor. But the spring had gone from his step.

David Cameron had escaped. But he was still not free.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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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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The week Uncut

16/07/2011, 10:30:20 AM

In case you missed them, these were the best read pieces on Uncut in the last seven days:

Dan Hodges says phone hacking is not the silver bullet

Anthony Painter calls for media ownership reform

Kevin Meagher thinks Ed deserves a pat on the back

John Woodcock on the BskyB bid and media regulation

Atul Hatwal reports on Ed’s next move

Dave Talbot says big up to the Guardian

Ian Austin isn’t after blue or new, he wants future Labour

Matt Cavanagh says the government are spinning rising crime rates

… and this weeks Commons sketch

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