While most Labour MPs are taking delight from the hacking story – because it puts David Cameron in a difficult position – one person is taking a more nuanced position: the prime minister.
Early today, a Downing Street spokesman made clear that Gordon Brown would not comment on the issue because he was focussed on big global issues at the G8 summit in Italy. In the afternoon Mr Brown said it “raises issues that are serious and will obviously have to be answered.”
But is it conceivable that he would have preferred to have stayed out of a debate which involves some of New Labour’s key allies?
Close relations with the Murdoch business empire seem to be a prerequisite of any successful UK government of recent years. Peter Oborne, in his excellent book “The Triumph of the Political Class” reminds us that Tony Blair twice flew across the globe to address the annual conference of News Corporation executives.
Meanwhile Lance Price, the former Downing Street press office, once claimed that Mr Murdoch had been the “24th member of the Cabinet”.
“His presence was always felt. No big decision could ever be made inside Number 10 without taking account of the likely reaction of three men – Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Rupert Murdoch. On all the really big decisions, anybody else could be safely ignored.”
Early in his premiership, Blair raised the subject of Murdoch during a conversation with Romano Prodi, then Italian PM. He asked about Murdoch’s multi-billion pound bid for Mediaset, the media group. Blair then passed the reply – Prodi would prefer Italian buyer – back to Murdoch.
Here is another direct quote from a Lance Price article in the Guardian in 2006:
“I was reminded just how touchy Downing Street is about Mr Murdoch when I submitted the manuscript of my book, The Spin Doctor’s Diary, to the Cabinet Office. Read more
The latest register of members interests is out. Those of you waiting for more lurid details of the hourly rates MPs charge for their second jobs will be disappointed. We’ll be waiting a few more months for that (I explain why below). In the meantime, we can keep amused with entries like these:
HOOD, Jim (Lanark and Hamilton East)
2. Remunerated employment, office, profession etc Read more
Strictly in the public interest, the Financial Times has broken the code to Andy Coulson’s voice mail. There is little doubt that the ends justify the means. Just see for yourselves.
“Hi Andy it’s Sue. The Guardian have called again. I told him you had no comment. But he says he’s going to stand outside CCHQ and call every hour until you say something. Just thought you should know.”
Labour are revelling in the Coulson furore. They are now even calling for him to be stripped of his Commons pass. Here’s Anne Clwyd’s take in the Commons.
“Given Mr Coulson’s dubious reputation none of us on this side of the House can feel comfortable that he is allowed to walk the corridors.”
At a sparsely attended committee hearing this morning I heard Stephen Timms, Treasury minister, admit that public sector pay might have to be frozen. At least he said that the Treasury had not ruled this out. Read more
David Cameron is being offered plenty of advice on the Andy Coulson saga from friends and foes alike: quickly find out exactly what happened, sack him regardless, don’t worry about it unless Coulson is directly implicated, or fight your man’s corner against a politically motivated campaign.
Cameron seems to have been reassured last night by Coulson’s “upright” answers. You have to presume that Coulson’s private assurances were more comprehensive than his public statement last night, which did not touch on whether he was aware of any illegal activities while he was editing the News of the World. (There is, of course, still no evidence to suggest that Coulson did know what the reporters working under him were up to.) Read more