On Tuesday 13th March David Cameron proved himself a brilliant game-player – albeit the kind that buys cheat codes.
He left the country for a state visit with Barack Obama.
Early that morning the Metropolitan Police arrested Cameron’s life-long friend Charlie Brooks and Rebekah formerly-the-CEO-of-NI Brooks and four other News International employees. By the time anyone knew about this, David Cameron was safely on a British Airways plane, mid-Atlantic.
As Fleet Street Fox notes, the convenient timing of this arrest just when David Cameron could not be ambushed with questions about his friendship with Charlie, Rebekah, and the horse, must be purely coincidental, and:
It is entirely coincidental that a public inquiry currently scrutinising relations between the police and members of the trade under examination has heard in recent days of senior coppers who have not been doing their job properly.
It is also coincidental that only last week said world leader made public statements about the arrested man being a school chum of 30 years’ standing.
It is a further coincidence that the arrests took place when the world leader had his first opportunity to be out of the country for a couple of days, allowing him to concentrate on photo opportunities while ensuring reports of his mate’s arrest fade away before he can be asked about it.
There have been as yet no suggestions of a ‘special relationship’ between the police and the man in charge of running the country, as the idea is of course ridiculous.
A spokesman has yet to say: “The only special relationship the Prime Minister has is with people who make him look good in pictures, and with people who end up getting arrested.”
As a bonus, David Cameron departed leaving Nick Clegg and Andrew Lansley to deal with any political fallout from the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives jointly voting for the NHS Reform Bill on the same day in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. At least a dozen of the LibDem MPs who obediently trotted into the government lobby are going to lose their seats to a Tory at the next General Election because of voting with the Tories on tuition fees, welfare reform, NHS reform… and more and more Tory cuts til 2015. But as the Liberal Democrats voted themselves into electoral oblivion and killed off the NHS, the BBC News was showing Cameron and Obama getting out of a car in Washington DC – and no one in the US was going to ask any awkward questions about the Brooks arrest or the death of the NHS.
Well played, sir.
At the First Minister’s Questions on 8th March, Willie Rennie asked Alex Salmond about his relationship with Murdoch:
1224: Scottish Lib Dem Willie Rennie on the hacking scandal. The FM lent his support to Rupert Murdoch, he says, but he has been silent on the victims of phone hacking.
1226: FM says he has fully supported the Leveson inquiry into press standards and says Mr Rennie should accept the SNP’s “total commitment” to seeing the law upheld.
1227: Mr Rennie said the FM prefers to “cosy up and not stand up” to Rupert Murdoch. “He was bragging earlier about Mr Murdoch’s support for independence,” says Mr Rennie. He adds that he has ignored the victims of phone hacking. Is the FM not ashamed of this grubby deal?
1228: FM says it’s “totally reasonable” to back Leveson and see the law is upheld and adds that the Lib Dems are “the party which put the moan into sanctimony”.
But that doesn’t actually answer the question. Alex Salmond does have a cosy relationship with Murdoch – which his fans have defended to me as “everyone does it”. Sir Denis O’Connor, the chief inspector of constabulary, said on Monday 13th March that he’d discussed holding a full investigation into phone hacking with the former Home Secretary Alan Johnson in 2009 but “there was little enthusiasm for carrying it forward”. The cosiness of the relationship seems to be depend entirely on how far you’re willing to do whatever Murdoch wants.
The Metropolitan Police also had a cosy relationship with the Murdoch tabloids:
During questioning, the Met’s communications head revealed that between 2003 and 2008, the now-closed NOTW dominated the scheduled meetings he arranged. During 2003 – when phone hacking was already an established practice inside the NOTW – Mr Fedorcio said The Sun and the NOTW were the only newspapers he visited twice.
He told the inquiry that in December of that year, Andy Coulson, then the Sunday tabloid’s editor, sent the public affairs department at the Yard a Christmas hamper. Within weeks of the arrests in 2006 of the NOTW’s royal correspondent Clive Goodman, and the tabloid’s private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire – both of whom were later jailed over illegal phone hacking – lunches and dinners continued to be arranged by the Met with NOTW executives.
One-to-one meetings between the NOTW and Scotland Yard also continued within weeks of the decision by the Met not to investigate if hacking went beyond Mulcaire and Goodman.
Salmond announced SNP plans for a single unified police force over the the whole of Scotland – what damage could Murdoch corruption do in such a force in an independent Scotland? I have the highest admiration for Lothian and Borders Police and for the other police forces in Scotland: but no one is immune to corruption.
Salmond further defended his meetings with Rupert Murdoch as “totally professional” and argued that it was okay for him to meet with Murdoch because it was not in secret:
“As soon as I had a meeting with Rupert Murdoch I released publicly that the meeting had taken place. I don’t have it in secret like the Labour government used to do. Everything was perfectly proper and above board.
“The Labour position seems to be that it’s wrong for me to openly meet News International when they have said that they’re going to change their practices, change their ways, but it was okay for them to meet News International when they were fully aware of malpractice and to do it in secret all these years ago.”
It is understandable for Alex Salmond to spin public condemnation of his getting cosy with Murdoch down to party politics. After all, there are serious questions which he ought to be answering about what deals he’s done with Murdoch behind closed doors. And while his loyal supporters may see nothing wrong with what he’s doing, to win a Yes vote in autumn 2014, he has to convince floating voters like me.
The Pope may launch his Interdict,
The Union its decree,
But the bubble is blown and the bubble is pricked
By Us and such as We.
Remember the battle and stand aside
While Thrones and Powers confess
That King over all the children of pride
Is the Press, the Press, the Press!
For a reminder of what it has been like for the victims of the tabloid press – Murdoch’s and others – Brian Cathcart of HackedOff writes about how victims of phone-hacking, both the obscure and the famous, gathered in London early in the Leveson inquiry:
We met on Tuesday evening [in November 2011] at a venue in central London. It was a fascinating and memorable occasion. Since this whole issue is about privacy it would scarcely be appropriate to recount the details, but the famous and the obscure mixed, talked and made friends and I think for at least some of them the vital objective of finding common strength was achieved.
Think of what many of them have endured: the persistent, often covert intrusion, the knowledge that News International and other journalists were in possession of some of their most private secrets, the fear, for themselves, their families and friends, that if they spoke up or sued, sooner or later these newspapers would exact their cruel revenge. There was a lot to talk about.
This was a private occasion, with no press release and no fanfare as that was the very last thing that any of the guests wanted. So why am I writing about it? Here is a clue: when the guests were arriving at the venue, press photographers were outside snapping them without their consent.
These newspapers will not let up. They are used to destroying people’s lives, they don’t want their fun spoiled and they are ready to use all their old tricks to prevent that happening. They saw a gathering of their victims, not as an occasion for their own shame, but as a chance for revenge, sabotage or abuse.
Joan Smith at Inforrrm’s Blog wrote about the launch of the Sun on Sunday, to which Alex Salmond leaked the planned day of the independence referendum:
There have been other significant revelations this week, including an internal NI memo showing that Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks knew in 2006 that more than a hundred people had been targets of phone hacking. We’ve also learned that the police were aware in the same year that Glenn Mulcaire had the new identities and contact details of people in the witness protection programme, a leak that potentially put lives at risk.
A single rogue reporter at the News of the World. A rogue newsroom that had to be closed down. A witch-hunt at the Sun that threatens press freedom. None of the excuses have stood up to much scrutiny, and damaging revelations continue to pour out at Leveson. Can Murdoch’s spanking new Sun on Sunday survive its association with this tarnished brand?
Can Alex Salmond’s shiny hope of an independent Scotland survive Salmond’s closed-door meetings with Murdoch?
If we vote Yes to independence, are we to wake up to Brian Souter running the transport system and Rupert Murdoch running the media? That’s not the Scotland I want to live in.