This is at least my third attempt at this blog. Such is the speed of developments over the last week that blogs left half finished overnight have been completely overtaken and rendered redundant by the time it comes to finish them the next day.
So, at the point of writing this sentence I have no idea whether it will ever appear publicly. No doubt some of you who might, or might not, end up reading it will have your own views as to whether that would have been a welcome development.
Its topic is unnatural allies and their consequences.
At the point of writing (conscious repetition here) the assumption that the big losers from the eventual fall out from the News international scandal will be the Tories. That won’t necessarily be the case.
The Tories and the Murdoch press are natural allies. Since they are both free market; anti-European, indeed anti foreigner of any sort; jingoistic in their foreign policy and draconian in their approach to domestic policy, it is no wonder if the Murdoch press would encourage their readers to support the Party which most closely reflected the views of their owner. And it was therefore no surprise that David Cameron would hire a press spokesman from that stable, any more than it would be if a Labour leader hired a press spokesman from the Daily Mirror or the Guardian, a point to which I will return in spades. No, the scandal is the basis on which Murdoch offered his support to a completely different political party and what was offered in return.
When did the phone hacking scandal start? Milly Dowler was murdered in 2002 and in the immediate aftermath of her death we now know the Police knew her phone was being hacked and at least at some level, decided not to investigate. The unrelated Devon and Cornwall investigation into the News of the World’s illegal access to the Police National Computer took place between 2003-05 when, I have already pointed out, the charges brought were discontinued by a judge in the most curious of circumstances. The Metropolitan Police seized Glen Mulcaire’s notebooks in 2006, the same year the Sun, having obtained the details in what as yet remain unexplained circumstances, decided that the serious illness of Gordon Brown’s son was a legitimate story. Any one of these events might have given rise to an independent investigation of the activities of the Murdoch press. None did. The Prime Minister at the time? Anthony Charles Lynton Blair. And the Commissioner? His namesake, Sir Iain, that most politically sensitive of all senior Police Officers.
At the highest level, the Police are not immune to the signals they receive from politicians. Policing has to have priorities like any other profession and senior Policemen know that there is unlikely to be much support in political circles for investigating those with a close relationship to the Governing party. And let us be in no doubt that when the inquiry into this gets under way, we are likely to hear a great deal about the signals they received to that effect.
I find it simply inconceivable that the Police were directly bought off by News International. But I do think that if they decided that they could give the investigation little or no priority, as this coincided with the wishes of the Government of the day, they would have been entirely justified in their conclusions.
The most distressing but unavoidable conclusion of all this is that if Tony Blair hadn’t fallen, even now, it is highly unlikely any of this would ever have seen the light of day. For while the Tories and Murdoch might have had ideological reasons to travel together, the only basis for our dealings with him could be on the basis of mutual self interest. Our interest was in the endorsement of his papers; his in ensuring we didn’t interfere with him making money in whatever way he saw fit. And if the Dowler’s of this world got hurt in the process, who cared? We certainly didn’t.
Gordon didn’t do himself any favours in his speech last week by failing to acknowledge any personal responsibilty. There is no doubt that his administration did not serve the Murdoch’s interests as slavishly as did Blair but equally it cannot be avoided that they continued to seek Murdoch’s support and that until the 2009 Party Conference they perceived that the price of that support was that they would fail to act against their excesses. That was a failure of morality which, if only to expected of Blair, was unworthy of Brown. While the quite shocking specific detail of the deletion of Milly Dowler’s phone messages might have been new and while there might even have been a “Hell mend them” attitude to the invasion of the privacy of so called celebrities, every Constituency MP knew of the appalling treatment the Murdoch Press routinely visited upon entirely innocent members of the public, often for having been no more than the victims of crime. And every person in public life knew that the Press Complaints Commission was an utterly useless safeguard against these excesses. Yet nothing was done because of the Faustian Pact Blair had struck with Murdoch and which, to his eternal shame, Gordon would have continued given the chance.
But, do you know, I don’t think anybody believed that extended to the tolerance of active criminality and that’s where, I think, Cameron may himself prove to have been a victim. When he employed Coulson, surely he was entitled to assume that, if what was being said about this man was true, something would have been done about it by the Government: not acting as a Labour Government but simply as the type of Government expected to put the law of the land above any Party advantage as, notwithstanding the political damage, Cameron is doing now. He was deceived not only, allegedly, by Coulson but by the naive belief that New Labour was a creation operating within the basic rules of morality. That doesn’t excuse his recklessness in making the appointment, a recklessness that might yet cost him his own job but, to be fair, in this mis-assessment of New Labour, he was not the first to make that mistake.
That even at the height of this row, Ed Miliband’s more Blairite advisers cautioned against speaking out in the hope that silence might, in time, allow the return to the status quo ante in Labour’s relations with Murdoch says just about everything. It is to Ed’s eternal credit that he saw clearly that this was not something which could be framed in the parameters of right versus left; it was rather, instead, a matter of right versus wrong.
But when the immediate furore subsides, as it inevitably will, and the detailed evidence gathering starts, regrettably the general public are unlikely to reward our Party with support for two weeks of action when it is seen to be weighed against thirteen years of inaction, and possibly worse.
So, it is good that Murdoch’s power has been broken but let’s not assume the examination of the wreckage will play out to the advantage of the Labour Party. Blair’s legacy can’t be so easily renounced.