Wednesday News Review

Murdoch received classified defence briefings

The extraordinary access that Cabinet ministers granted Rupert Murdoch and his children was revealed for the first time yesterday, with more than two dozen private meetings between the family and senior members of the Government in the 15 months since David Cameron entered Downing Street. In total, Cabinet ministers have had private meetings with Murdoch executives more than 60 times and, if social events such as receptions at party conferences are included, the figure is at least 107. On two occasions, James Murdoch and former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks were given confidential defence briefings on Afghanistan and Britain’s strategic defence review by the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox. A further briefing was held with Ms Brooks, Rupert Murdoch and the Sunday Times editor John Witherow. – the Independent

Boy George has his head in the sand

Deluded Chancellor George Osborne yesterday hailed nine months of economic stagnation as “positive news” for Britain. Yet the Chancellor insisted: “The positive news is that the British economy is continuing to grow and is creating jobs. And it is positive news too at a time of real international instability that we are a safe haven in the storm.” A series of lame excuses – including the Japanese tsunami, the Royal Wedding and April’s hot weather – were also trotted out to justify the lacklustre economic performance. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls branded Mr Osborne “breathtakingly complacent” and accused him of being “in total denial”. Mr Balls, who challenged the Chancellor to a televised debate, added: “Families, pensioners and businesses can feel that tax rises and spending cuts which go too far and too fast are hurting, but it’s clear that they aren’t working.” New figures showed Gross Domestic Product, a measure of the nation’s wealth, rose by 0.2% in the past three months. That is just half of what the Government’s independent economic watchdog had predicted. – Daily Mirror

Today’s figures of 0.2 per cent GDP growth show the UK’s climb out of recession to be uncertain and sluggish. It seems the Home Office could not have timed worse the release of a damning newreport from the home affairs committee on the consequences of the changes to student visas. It’s official: these changes are set to cost the economy £3.4 billion; a disconcerting revelation for the embattled George Osborne who also has to monitor the euro-crisis and the fiscal turmoil in Greece. The over-arching message from today’s report is that the government needs to seriously consider the growing challenges of the UK’s economy and the impact of restricting foreign students on income generated by research and innovation in higher education – issues which it thinks have not yet been properly considered. The UK’s economy is bolstered by the funding stream of overseas students, an industry “worth up to £40 billion” and provides a direct contribution of “up to £12.5 billion” annually to revenue. There is no denying the government faces some considerable challenges in reforming the current immigration system and trying to balance an economy in freefall. – Left Foot Forward

Even Boris wants a growth plan

The London mayor, Boris Johnson, has called for a “manifesto for growth” to generate jobs and keep the economy moving as figures revealed that the UK economy had grown by only 0.2% in the past three months. Johnson said measures to “stimulate consumption” were also needed, along with more investment to create jobs and drive the economy forward. The Conservative mayor reiterated his support for scrapping the 50p rate of tax and as the “right direction” to get faster economic recovery. The comments came as Johnson hosted a London radio show for an hour in place of the usual presenter, Nick Ferrari. Certainly you should look at national insurance, you should look at ways of stimulating consumption, confidence in the market, and certainly I think the 50p tax rate as a signal that London is open for business, that London is a great international competitive capital.” But he said the “critical thing” was to set out “a manifesto or charter for growth.” – the Guardian

Answers at last

The Information Commissioner ruled that they were in the public interest, amid claims by some victims’ families that the former Conservative prime minister tried to protect the police’s reputation. In a decision notice, Christopher Graham said: “Support for disclosure of information relating to the Hillsborough disaster was expressed by the previous government and has been reconfirmed by the current government, and the commissioner also believes that the specific content of the information in question would add to public knowledge and understanding about the reaction of various parties to that event, including the government of the day, in the early aftermath.” Ninety-six Liverpool fans died in the crush at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield on April 15 1989 during an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. An inquiry led by Lord Taylor of Gosforth concluded that the main reason for overcrowding was the failure of police control. – Daily Telegraph

The government has been ordered to publish documents revealing the discussions held by Margaret Thatcher about the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans died in a crush at the stadium in Sheffield. Ruling that release of the documents was in the public interest, the information commissioner said it was right to publish the record of a Cabinet meeting on 20 April 1989 in which the then prime minister and her ministers spoke of the disaster, which took place five days earlier. The judgment by Christopher Graham relates to a freedom of informationrequest by the BBC more than two years ago, which was refused by the Cabinet Office. He rejected the office’s argument that the disclosure would impact negatively on the freedom with which ministers can engage in “free and frank discussions”, and on the convention of collective responsibility. – the Guardian

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