So far the News of the World phone hacking affair has run largely along party lines. Labour MPs have lined up to call for various inquiries and investigations, while the Tories and Lib Dems have kept largely silent, with Number 10 issuing denials that Andy Coulson knew anything about the hacking that we do know took place.
Today that changed. A fired up Commons has voted unanimously to refer the matter to the committee on standards and privileges, the most powerful Commons committee, and one which has the power to subpoena witnesses.
During the debate, it was clear the tenor had changed. Members from all sides of the house showed an unusual sense of unity.
Of course, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they would unite on this issue. If there’s anything that can bring even the most implacably opposed MPs together it is hatred of the British media, especially since the expenses scandal.
The rhetoric was vitriolic. Here’s a flavour from Tom Watson, the Labour backbencher:
They, the barons of the media with their red-topped assassins, are the biggest beasts in the modern jungle. They have no predators, they are untouchable, they laugh at the law, they sneer at parliament, they have the power to hurt us and they do with gusto and precision.
We are afraid, and if we oppose this resolution it is our shame. That is the tawdry secret that dare not speak its name.
The most powerful people in the land – prime ministers, ministers and MPs of every party – are guilty in their own way of perpetuating a media culture that allows the characters of the decent to be traduced out of casual malice, for money, for spite, for sport, for any reason they like
Nadine Dorries – no stranger to a tabloid sting – joined in from the Tory side, uirging an end to self-regulation of the press and saying:
It is our fault for having allowed the media to reach a point of arrogance.
And it continued even after this debate with this extraordinary row between Labour backbencher Chris Bryant and Sky News anchor Kay Burley during which Bryant accused Burley of being “a bit dim”
The journalist-baiting atmosphere may help to deflect attention away from Andy Coulson, but the new unity may also mean that the Tories can no longer dismiss the affair as party-political point scoring.