Tag Archives: Leveson Inquiry

Coulson convicted – now Cameron has serious questions to answer

Beleaguered: A weary-looking David Cameron tried to defend his choice to employ convicted phone hacker Andy Coulson in a BBC interview.

Beleaguered: A weary-looking David Cameron tried to defend his choice to employ convicted phone hacker Andy Coulson in a BBC interview.

The conviction of former Downing Street press supremo Andy Coulson on charges of conspiracy to hack telephones should have serious consequences for David Cameron, the Prime Minister who brought him into the heart of the UK government after he committed these crimes.

Cameron has said he takes “full responsibility” for employing Coulson. He may regret those words in the future.

Interviewed by the BBC, he said: “I did so on the basis of undertakings I was given by him about phone hacking and those turn out not to be the case.” What undertakings? That he hadn’t taken part in any hacking or that he was very good at it and wouldn’t get caught?

For a Prime Minister in charge of a barely-legitimate Coalition government with an agenda to destroy Britain’s best loved institutions, such as the National Health Service and the Welfare State, the presence of a person who could infiltrate the telephone communications of others, providing information that could be used to stop them, would be a huge asset.

Pressed on what he asked Coulson and what assurances he was given, Cameron said: “We covered all this in the Leveson Inquiry.” This is not a rock-solid alibi as Cameron was found to have, let’s say, selective amnesia about certain issues. His relationship with the Murdoch press – of which Coulson is a former employee – was one of them, and it is appropriate that more questions should be asked – and answers demanded – about the level of influence exerted on the British government by the man Private Eye describes as the ‘Dirty Digger’.

At the Leveson Inquiry, Cameron could not say:

  • Whether or not George Osborne obtained assurances from Andy Coulson about phone hacking before hiring him for the Conservative Party.
  • Whether he spoke to Rebekah Brooks about Andy Coulson before his Downing Street appointment.
  • How many conversations he had with Mrs Brooks about Coulson.
  • Whether he raised the issue of phone hacking with Coulson in Westminster or over the phone while on holiday.
  • Where and how Coulson repeated his assurances about phone hacking.
  • What Nick Clegg said to him about Coulson.
  • Who else raised concerns about Coulson with him.
  • Whether or not any Tory MPs expressed concerns about Coulson.
  • Whether he discussed Coulson and phone hacking with Rupert Murdoch.
  • Whether he sought direct assurances on hacking from Andy Coulson when revelations appeared in the New York Times (isn’t that now a Murdoch paper?) on December 1, 2010.

“I gave someone a second chance and it turned out to be a bad decision,” Cameron said yesterday – but this won’t wash, according to the Labour Party’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman.

“He [Coulson] was not somebody who’d admitted what he’d done and was turning over a new leaf,” she said.

Labour leader Ed Miliband, interviewed (again) by the BBC, got straight to the point: “David Cameron brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street… David Cameron must have had his suspicions about Andy Coulson, and yet he refused to act.

“This taints David Cameron’s government because we now know that he put his relationship with Rupert Murdoch ahead of doing the right thing… He owes this country an explanation.”

Coulson’s connection with the Murdoch press was also hugely useful to Cameron at the time. Did he hope that the appointment would buy him favour with the 37 per cent of the British media owned by Murdoch? Was there a reciprocal arrangement, with the UK government showing extra favour to the Murdoch media – such as its plan to grant permission for Murdoch to buy the 61 per cent of BSkyB that he did not own (since aborted, partly due to bad publicity)?

As Roger Cohen wrote in the New York Times in July 2011, “It is hard to resist the impression that Cameron was completely in the thrall of Brooks, Murdoch and his son James Murdoch.”

What about the huge volume of emails – around 150 – between Cameron and Brooks that were withheld from the Leveson Inquiry and kept from the public domain, even after a Cabinet Office ruling in October 2012 that the public should see them?

Cameron was expected to face hard questions about his relationship with Coulson during Prime Minister’s Questions today (June 25). At the time of writing (11am), and based on his comments in the BBC interview, it seems likely that all we will hear is more evasion.

Is this really the behaviour of a man who should be the British Prime Minister?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Cabinet reshuffle: Does Cameron think he’s the Joker?

Today’s blog entry will be relatively short. I had an operation on my leg yesterday (September 4) and it seems to be affecting my ability to think.

… And if you think that’s bizarre and illogical, let’s have a look at the decisions made by David Cameron in yesterday’s Cabinet reshuffle!

Firstly, the really shocking news: George Osborne is remaining as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Not really news, I know, but at the outset it makes a mockery of a process that is supposed to be about improving the government of the UK. Osborne’s policies are a disaster; he has sent British industry nosediving while increasing borrowing by £9.3 billion in the last four months. He was booed when he got up to give out medals at the Paralympics and he was booed at Prime Minister’s Questions today. But he remains in the Number Two government job.

Also remaining in post are Home Secretary Theresa May and Foreign Secretary William Hague; Education Secretary Michael Gove surprisingly keeps his brief, despite having proved by his activities that he is not up to the intellectual challenge (see previous Vox articles).

And Iain Duncan Smith will remain at Work and Pensions – oh yes he will! – despite having been offered Justice by David Cameron. This shows the weakness of the Prime Minister. As LabourList’s Mark Ferguson put it: “Cameron tried to move IDS. IDS said no. Cameron said ‘ah…um…ok’. Weak, weak, weak.”

Fellow Tweeter Carl Maxim added: “Iain Duncan Smith was offered a job at Justice but refused to take it. Therefore his benefits should be cut.”

And a fellow called ‘Woodo’ tweeted: “Gove and Duncan-Smith to stay in roles to ‘get the job done’. ‘The job’ being making educating poor kids harder and killing off the disabled.”

Biggest winner in the reshuffle has to be former Culture moron – I mean secretary – Jeremy Hunt, who has been moved up to take the Health brief. This has been seen as a reward for his work on the phone hacking controversy that led to the departure of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson from the Downing Street press office, and to the Leveson Inquiry into the behaviour of the media.

This seems a nonsensical move. Leveson has ordered not only Cameron, but Cameron’s friends Coulson, Rebekah Brooks (who now faces criminal charges for her part in phone hacking), and Hunt himself to give evidence in hearings that were highly embarrassing for those under scrutiny.

Hunt’s own close connections with Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corporation owns the papers that were mainly responsible for the crimes, is well-documented, and led to this tweet from James Lyons: “BREAKING – Rupert Murdoch to buy the NHS.”

This may not be far from the truth. Hunt co-authored a book dealing with the NHS at length, with Daniel Hannon MEP who called the NHS a 60 year mistake. The book states: “Our ambition should be to break down the barriers between private and public provision, in effect denationalising the provision of health care in Britain“.

He reportedly tried to remove the NHS tribute from the Olympic Games opening ceremony and his record in government is as dodgy: he voted to halve the time allowed for an abortion from 24 weeks to 12. His support of homeopathy has also attracted ridicule from some quarters.

Hunt’s arrival at Health follows the ejection of Andrew Lansley, the man who worked for eight long years on his Health and Social Care Bill, that effectively privatised health care in England. This work constituted the biggest lie this government ever sold to the public – that the Conservatives would safeguard the well-loved 64-year-old national institution. His reward? Demotion to become Leader of the House of Commons.

Former employment minister Chris Grayling, a man who believes bed and breakfast owners should be allowed to ban gay couples, has been promoted to the Justice brief. In response, one tweeter asked if Cameron will be building more prisons.

This means the oldest Cabinet member, Kenneth Clarke, has been ejected from Justice. David Cameron reportedly tried to sack him outright, along with departing Conservative co-chair Baroness Warsi, but ended up compounding his weakness by creating new roles for them instead. Clarke will be a minister without portfolio (although it is believed he’ll be sticking his oar into Osborne’s business at the Treasury), and Warsi will be minister for faith and communities.

Nick Parry tweeted: “Now ‘Baroness’ Warsi really knows what it’s like to be Northern and working-class – she’s been made redundant by the Tories.”

And Rory Macqueen asked: “Who has replaced Warsi in the <issue off-the-shelf statement about “Labour’s union baron paymasters”> role? It looks really challenging.”

That would be tireless self-promoter and foot-in-mouth artist Grant Shapps.

Scraping the bottom of the barrel… The new Transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, is afraid of flying.

And the former minister for the disabled, Maria ‘Killer’ Miller, is the new Equalities minister. She’ll be victimising women, gays and ethnic minorities as well, from now on. If you think that’s harsh, bear in mind that she voted for a (heavily defeated) proposal to stop abortion providers like Marie Stopes counselling women, and is on record as being in favour of defining homophobia, racial hatred and prejudice as ‘freedom of speech’.

Beyond that, we’re into comedy territory. For example, Mid Wales Labour member Ryan Myles said: “Apparently David Cameron was planning on moving Eric Pickles but couldn’t afford the crane.”

All in all, it’s been a wholesale replacement of anybody with talent, by idiots. The tweeter who identifies himself with Yes Minister lead character Rt Hon Jim Hacker MP summed it up perfectly: “Expected a night of the long knives, may just be a morning of insignificant pricks!

Phone hacking, Leveson and the AC/DC affair

Certain people seem to be forgetting that the Leveson Inquiry into the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press was partly prompted by a newspaper’s interference in criminal investigations after a schoolgirl was murdered.

It is understood that reporters from the News of the World (I don’t know how many of them did it) hacked into Millie Dowler’s mobile phone, listened to voice messages left on it, and then deleted them, allowing new messages to be left and illicitly monitored, and leading her parents to believe that the teenager, who had been killed by Levi Bellfield, was still alive. This act also hindered the police investigation into what had happened.

Rebekah Brooks, a close friend of Conservative MP David Cameron – who later became leader of the Tories, and Prime Minister in 2010 – was editor of that newspaper at the time. The New York Times alleged that, if the allegations were true, then it was possible Mrs Brooks knew about the hacking and allowed it.

I am a newspaper reporter – and was editor of The Brecon and Radnor Express for a while before running my own online news business for a few years. I know the scale of our respective operations was vastly different, but I can promise that I always knew how my reporters were getting their stories. If I didn’t know, I asked.

Mrs Brooks was followed as editor of the News of the World by one Andy Coulson, who went on to become Conservative Party Communications Director and then Director of Communications for the Prime Minister (when David Cameron assumed that role in 2010). He had taken up the Conservative Party position after resigning from the newspaper over the phone hacking affair. He had been subjected to allegations that he was aware his reporters were hacking into the telephones of private individuals, including celebrities.

The Andy Coulson/David Cameron (or AC/DC, as I propose to call it from now on) relationship is the important issue here.

The main question behind the Leveson Inquiry has always been this: Did David Cameron allow a criminal, who used illegal methods to monitor the activities of others, into the heart of the British government?

This would have been a colossal error of judgement – possibly an unforgivable one.

The editor of The Independent seems to have forgotten that this is what it’s all about. Responding to a letter from the Inquiry, Chris Blackhurst claimed that Lord Justice Leveson was “loading a gun” that he was preparing to fire at the newspaper industry.

He told the BBC it was “a point by point demolition of the industry”, describing it as a “diatribe” raising criticisms that did not bear any relation to practices at his “end of the market”.

This is a man who badly needs to get over himself. Serious questions have been raised about the behaviour of our national newspapers, and if the Inquiry has found that they are justified, then they need to be addressed.

He does not know the full extent of the Inquiry’s findings. The letter he received is a standard part of inquiry procedures and gives notice of possible criticism, offering those concerned a chance to respond before a conclusion is reached. They are one-sided because positive findings do not necessitate a warning.

And we should not gloss over the fact that Mr Blackhurst has broken the rules by making the complaint. The letter he received was confidential and those who receive such correspondence are obliged to keep them that way and not discuss them openly.

By whining about it, Mr Blackhurst has made Leveson’s point for him.