19 July 2011

A Fortnight is an Absurdly Long Time in Politics...

Well, today looks like it's going to be a big day in Hackgate, with Rupert and James Murdoch joining Rebekah Brooks in facing the Culture Committee in Parliament. Obviously, the place to track what's going on is the Guardian's live blog, as it's been for weeks, but I'd not shun the BBC's coverage either. Tom Watson has warned us against expecting too much, though. Getting through this whole affair, he says, is like slicing a cucumber.

I'd not expect today's slices to be particularly thick, though much of the interest will come from the fact that Rupert and Friends are trying to fight a two-front war, and each war requires different tactics. 'The PR advice,' reports the Guardian, 'will be to look them in the eyes, tell the truth and look upfront for the global TV audience. The legal advice will be to say nothing.'

Given how much has gone on in this whole affair, I thought it'd be useful to put together a timeline of events over the last fortnight, just listing the key points. It's basically the stuff I blurred over in my last post about David Cameron and how he clearly failed to embrace the famous axion about Caesar's Wife where Andy Coulson was concerned. I owe a lot to the wonderfully straightforward BBC timeline, of course, and to trawling through the Guardian's blog, where Alan Rusbridger's team have been doing astonishing work -- Andy Sparrow's been assiduous in his coverage, and Nick Davies, I'm increasingly convinced, deserves the highest honours this country can give. Channel 4 has given us a handy diagram showing some of Rebekah Brooks' connections, which is a good introduction to things, but is really too simple; Rebekah's web, I fear, is far more complex than that, and I'm pretty sure she's not the one at the centre of it.

Monday 4 July
  • In the aftermath of the conclusion of the trial of Levi Bellfield for the murder of schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002, the Guardian reports that Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked by News of the World reporters in the days after she went missing.
  • Labour MP Tom Watson calls on David Cameron and Ed Miliband to act in response to the news.
  • Ed Miliband says that the police must get to the bottom of the matter, which he describes as cruel and immoral beyond belief.
Tuesday 5 July
  • From Afghanistan, David Cameron describes the phone-hacking as a truly dreadful act, and urges the police to pursue the matter vigorously.
  • Yvette Cooper calls for a wide-ranging inquiry into phone-hacking.
  • Ed Miliband says that Rebekah Brooks, editor of the News of the World at the time of Milly Dowler's disappearance, should consider her position in News International, and calls for a public inquiry into the matter.
  • It is reported that the familes of murdered schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman had been contacted by detectives investigating phone-hacking.
Wednesday 6 July
  • Further reports suggest the phones of family-members of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq may also have been hacked.
  • Companies begin announcing they are withdrawing advertising from the News of the World.
Thursday 7 July
  • The Independent Police Complaints Commission says it will be taking over the investigation into claims that police had been bribed by the News of the World, after it is reported that £100,000 was received by up to five officers.
  • James Murdoch, chairman of News International, announces that Sunday's edition of the News of the World shall be the last one.
  • Ed Miliband again calls on Rebekah Brooks to resign.
Friday 8 July
  • Clive Goodman, former News of the World royal editor, is arrested a second time in connection with phone-hacking and bribery of police officers.
  • Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor and press officer for David Cameron, is likewise arrested in connection with phone-hacking and bribery of police officers.
  • An unidentified 63-year-old man is arrested in connection with phone-hacking and bribery of police officers.
  • David Cameron says that the Press Complaints Commission would be scrapped, and that there should be two investigations into the scandal, with one into phone-hacking to be led by a judge and one into media standards by a panel of experts. He continues to maintain that his appointment of Andy Coulson had not been a mistake, saying that he felt Coulson was entitled to a second chance.
  • The Guardian reveals that in February 2010 it had warned Steve Hilton, David Cameron's director of strategy, about Andy Coulson, with particular reference to his connections with the convicted criminal John Reese, then awaiting trial for an axe-murder.
  • Police say they are investigating whether a News International executive might have deleted millions of emails from an internal archive in January, just as Operation Weeting was beginning.
  • Rebekah Brooks has meeting with News of the World staff, in which she tells them that they would understand in a year's time why the paper had to close, saying that 'eventually it will come out why things went wrong and who is responsible. That will be another very, very difficult moment in this company's history.'
Saturday 9 July
  • Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman press David Cameron to appoint a judge without delay to head the hacking inquiry; Downing Street says it's going as fast as it can.
  • Paddy Ashdown says that in the days leading up to the Coalition agreement in May 2010, he warned David Cameron against having Andy Coulson, about whom he had evidence that had not been made public for legal reasons, as Downing Street's press officer.
  • Nick Clegg says that he raised similar concerns but was rebuffed by David Cameron who said that it was right to give Andy Coulson a second chance.
  • More than 4.5 million copies of the last News of the World are printed, as News International expect it to become a collectors' item.
Sunday 10 July
  • The final edition of News of the World goes on sale. While initial sales figures suggest 4.5 million copies had been sold, it is later revealed that the real sales figure was 3.8 million copies, still the paper's highest sales since 2004.
  • Ed Miliband says that Rupert Murdoch should drop the BSkyB bid and sack Rebekah Brooks. In the meantime he says that Labour are planning to table motion to force the government to suspend the BSkyB deal until the phone-hacking investigations are complete.
  • Chris Huhne says that David Cameron had run very serious risks in appointing Andy Coulson as his press officer, and that the Lib Dems may back Labour's motion.
  • Rupert Murdoch arrives in the UK.
  • John Yates, Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, admits his 2009 decision not to reopen the phone-hacking investigation had be a 'pretty crap one'.
Monday 11 July
  •  It's reported that News International journalists bribed police officers to get details about the movements and contact details of members of the royal family and their friends.
  • Jeremy Hunt refers BSkyB deal to Competition Commissioner.
  • It is reported that News International journalists repeatedly targetted former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, attempting to access his voicemail, obtaining material from his bank account and legal file, trawling police computers for data on him, and apparently hacking into his accountant's computer.
  • Gordon Brown claims News International had tried to destroy him, and that he had been forced to go public about his baby son's illness after Rebekah Brooks rang him to tell him that the Sun knew about it.
Tuesday 12 July
  • Peter Clarke, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, says that News International did not cooperate with the original police investigation and had lied to it.
  • Sue Akers, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, says there are about 4,000 people named in Glenn Mulcaire's notes.
  • The Culture Committee says that it shall be asking Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch, and Rebekah Brooks to appear before it.
  • Labour announces text of Parliamentary motion expressing opposition to Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB bid.
  • News Corp announces buyback of $5bn worth of shares.
  • David Cameron has a meeting with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg to discuss the terms of the judge-led enquiries into the media, with Miliband calling for a wider judge-led enquiry than one limited to just the News of the World and phone-hacking.
  • Downing Street announces that the government shall support Labour's motion to oppose Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB bid.
Wednesday 13 July
  • Hours before Parliament votes in support of the Labour motion expressing opposition to Rupert Murdoch's bid to buy all of BSkyB, Murdoch announces that he is abandoning the deal.
  • David Cameron announces twin enquiries into Media standards -- one into the culture, practices and ethics of the press, its relationship with police and the failure of the current system of press self-regulation, and one into phone-hacking and related matters in British newspapers. Judge Leveson is to head both enquiries.
  • Ed Miliband accuses David Cameron of a catastrophic error of judgement in appointing Andy Coulson as Downing Street's Press Officer, in particular with reference to ignoring warnings.
  • Senior American politicans call for investigations into News International activities in the USA.
Thursday 14 July
  • Neil Wallis, former News International executive and deputy to Andy Coulson, is arrested.
  • The FBI announces it is to investigate whether familes of 9/11 victims had been phone-hacked.
  • Rebekah Brooks agrees to appear before Committee investigating why News International executives gave false evidence to Parliament.
  • Following receipt of summonses, Rupert and James Murdoch likewise agree to give evidence to the same Parliamentary Committee.
Friday 15 July
  • Rebekah Brooks resigns as chief executive of News International.
  • Rupert Murdoch makes personal apology to the family of Milly Dowler.
  • David Cameron admits to 26 meetings -- other than informal walks and rides with his constituent Rebekah Brooks -- with senior News International staff over previous 15 months, and that Andy Coulson was his guest at Chequers two months after Coulson's resignation.
  • Les Hinton resigns as chief executive of Dow Jones & Co.
Saturday 16 July
  • Rupert Murdoch publishes a full-page apology in every British national paper.
  • William Hague, who prior to returning to the Conservative front bench in 2007 wrote a £190,000 p.a. for the News of the World, defends David Cameron's having had Andy Coulson as a guest at Chequers after his resignation.
  • Elisabeth Murdoch is reported to have blamed James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks for the crisis in News International.
Sunday 17 July
  • Ed Miliband says that Parliament should sit for an extra day to discuss the entire News International affair.
  • From South Africa, David Cameron announces that he shall be asking Parliament to sit for an extra day -- Wednesday -- this week.
  • It is reported that Andy Coulson, despite being backed by George Osborne and William Hague, had not been David Cameron's first choice to be his press officer, and that Cameron only chose him after beeing pressed to do so by Rebekah Brooks.
  • Rebekah Brooks becomes the tenth person arrested over phone-hacking allegations.
  • Paul Stephenson resigns as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police over his having employed Neil Wallis, the former deputy to Andy Coulson, as a strategic advisor, drawing comparisons between his relationship with Wallis and that of David Cameron with Coulson.
  • Ed Miliband calls for new media rules to limit unhealthy concentrations of power in individuals such as Rupert Murdoch.
Monday 18 July
  •  The US Department of Justice contacts the UK's Serious Fraud Office with a view to investigating News International's activities in Britain, as News International's parent company News Corp is an American company, and it is illegal for American-based companies to bribe foreign officials.
  • John Yates resigns as Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
  • Sean Hoare, News International whistleblower, is found dead.

And unfortunately, while all this is going on, there've been people whinging about other papers, especially the traditionally-Labour supporting Mirror and to a slightly lesser degree the traditionally-Conservative Mail. They need looking at too -- I don't think anybody doubts that -- but it's striking that those shouting loudest about them now are those who sneered for years as the Guardian kept ploughing away at the News International phone-hacking story. Driving much of this has been resentment at how close ties between the Conservative party and the Murdoch press are being played on by enemies of both; essentially, they're urging a retaliation against the Mirror as a traditionally Labour-supporting paper. Paul Dacre's Conservative Mail is a target simply because if it'd make no sense to leave it out of a broad investigation into the Sun and the Mirror.

A diary entry on today's Conservative Home makes this approach all too clear:
'So to mount an operation defending the Prime Minister ought to be straightforward. [...] And as well as defence there is counter-attack. [...] Where is the publicised push to haul Piers Morgan before a Select Committee?  (The running on the story has been made by Guido Fawkes.)  Why is there no campaign to ram home the message that the Daily Mirror carried out three times as many illegal transactions as the News of the World (according to the Information Commissioner)?  Who advised the Prime Minister to fly off abroad rather than go on TV here - telling viewers that his priorities are theirs: curbing the deficit, controlling immigration, improving schools, tackling the Euro-zone crisis?  How come published details of meetings with Rebekah Wade were wrong?

The buck for all this stops not with CCHQ but with Number 10.'
Of course, this rather glosses over the fact that Morgan was part of the same school of Sun journalists as Brooks and Coulson, and that he lost his job after publishing fraudulent pictures of British soldiers as part of a story that attacked the actions of a Labour government, but more to the point neither Morgan nor the Mirror has the power to make or break Prime Ministers -- indeed, even the Mail doesn't have really have that, as it'd never support Labour or the Lib Dems. Only the Murdoch press, with its variable loyalty, makes a real difference in that regard, using its smut and its sports coverage to lure in people who'll then read what it laughably calls 'news'. 

For decades the Murdoch press has lied about Europe, brainwashing the British people into thinking it's bad for Britain, convincing the Conservatives they'd been wrong to lead Britain into a process of ever-closer union, despite Thatcher's arguments for their doing so, and seemingly threatening to turn on Blair's Labour government if it didn't agree to a legislation on the since-abandoned EU Constitution. For two years before the Iraq war it cried out for an invasion and all 127 Murdoch papers screamed for one in the weeks and days leading up to the attack, with Murdoch speaking to Blair three times in those last nine days before invasion and the Sun lying about France's attitude to Iraq. It lied time and again about the Lisbon Treaty, and about the Alternative Vote and about a thousand lesser things, but to list its lies would take forever; if you really want to wallow in Murdoch's filth you can have fun seeking some of it out on Tabloidwatch -- just use the 'Sun' tag -- or on The Sun -- Tabloid Lies.

That's what this is about, above all. It's about an organisation that has been a cancer in British politics and discourse for decades, an organisation that can sway elections, that has controlled the government of the land and that basically is the modern British establishment. It's nonsense to claim that if someone dislikes the Sun they don't need to buy it; others will buy it, and will believe its lies, and when they vote they will do so based on false information because they've been lied to by Murdoch. We all have to live with their political decisions.

So this matters. If all goes well, and I fear it won't, we may look back on this year's 4th of July as Britain's Independence Day.

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