During the ongoing Commons debate on phone hacking David Cameron refused three times – pressed by Labour MP Dennis Skinner – to say whether he had had conversations with News International executives about the BSkyB while prime minister. He said only that he had had “no inappropriate conversations” with the company.
Separately he insisted that any meetings with NI during the period were not relevant because he had “asked to be excluded from the decision”.
Parliament took centre stage today in the phone hacking scandal when Rebekah Brooks answered MPs’ questions about phone hacking. Earlier, Rupert and James Murdoch gave their testimonies.
19.30: Nearly five hours after we began, we have finally finished this afternoon’s testimony from Rebekah Brooks and the Murdochs to the culture, media and sport select committee. Here’s what happened:
- All three offered apologies for what happened at the NotW. Rupert Murdoch called it “The most humble day of my life.”
- RM initially struggled under the questioning, failing to hear some of the questions and claiming not to have been in touch with his newspapers very much.
- James Murdoch gave long and complex answers to many of the questions, but in essence, he said he knew nothing about how widespread phone hacking was. He defended the company’s payment to Gordon Taylor, an alleged hacking victim, saying it was based on legal advice that it would lose its civil case.
- JM also admitted there had been internal discussions in News International about setting up a “Sun on Sunday”.
- RM admitted to paying the legal expenses of Andy Coulson, Clive Goodman and even Glenn Mulcaire at various stages, including for the 2006 hacking trial and the Tommy Sheridan trial.
- Both RM and JM emphasised the failings of their external lawyers, Harbottle & Lewis, who claimed there was no evidence of phone hacking happening any more widely than by Clive Goodman.
- Most dramatically, the hearing was interrupted when a protester tried to push a custard pie into RM‘s face. He was repelled by police and Wendi Deng, RM‘s wife.
- Rebekah Brooks said she knew nothing about Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked until she read it in the Guardian.
- RB said she went to Number 10 more under Blair and Brown than under Cameron.
- RB refuted the idea that she pushed Andy Coulson into his job as Tory communications director. She said the idea came from George Osborne.
So who won and who lost today?
James Murdoch He was smooth, he was corporate, he didn’t say anything he shouldn’t have. He was also evasive and often nonsensical, but he stuck well to his brief.
Rebekah Brooks Came across well: was softly spoken and humble, while also vigorously denying any knowledge of criminal activity.
Wendi Deng Repelled an attacker, and was praised by Tom Watson for her left hook.
Tom Watson Got the tone spot on. Calm but insistent, with specific and forensic questions. The best of the questioners.
Rupert Murdoch Looked all over the place. Struggled to hear some questions, didn’t seem to understand others. At times, however, he was refreshingly candid, such as when he admitted that Les Hinton might have authorised paying the legal costs of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman. That might get him in trouble though.
Harbottle & Lewis The lawyers brought in by News International were named again and again as the organisation that failed to follow up on evidence of widespread hacking. The firm is under a duty of confidentiality however, and cannot respond.
What is Boris up to? When asked about David Cameron’s future this afternoon, he replied:
I’m not here to discuss government appointments. Those questions you must address to government. I don’t think there’s a very clear read across [from Sir Paul Stephenson hiring Neil Wallis to Mr Cameron hiring Andy Coulson]. This is a matter you must address to Number 10 Downing Street.
David Cameron tried his best to look interested during a lengthy business Q&A just now at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange; but his mind is undoubtedly elsewhere, several thousand miles to the north, where the phone hacking saga is yielding new twists and turns by the hour.
But he looked a bit more alert when Jason Groves of the Daily Mail – alluding to Ed Miliband’s comments this morning – asked whether he was considering his position as prime minister.
One business leader is notably absent from today’s tour of South Africa: Colin Walton, chairman of Bombardier.
Only last week MP Heather Wheeler told Westminster Hall that Walton would be on the trade trip. By the end of the week, however, his name had disappeared from the draft list.
Sir Paul Stephenson
Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation yesterday was a significant moment in the phone hacking affair: not only because of the fact of his resigning but because of what he said afterwards.
He made two subtle but important criticisms of the prime minister:
1) He said he had resigned in part for having employed Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of the News of the World, who has since been arrested, but did not have to resign from the NotW for his part in the scandal. He compared this to Andy Coulson, who had been forced to resign, but was also given subsequent employment – by the prime minister.
David Cameron faced a tricky decision last week ahead of a long-planned trip to sub-Saharan Africa, his first as prime minister. This was originally drawn up as a two-pronged journey which would focus both on trade (with a delegation of business types) but also on aid – with a chance for the prime minister to justify his controversial plan to lift aid spending to 0.7 per cent of GDP.
But Cameron and his aides realised that he would be open to criticism if he spent the best part of a week on a different continent while the phone hacking scandal rumbles on in the UK – and as the eurozone crisis escalates in southern Europe.
So what to do? Cancel or delay the trip to focus on the domestic crises? Or cut the trip in half to focus on either trade or aid? And if the latter, which should be the priority?
Andrew Rosenfeld, who is giving Labour at least £1m in several instalments, is putting much of the money towards winning over voters in marginal constituencies. That is apt as the property tycoon is no stranger to the concept of swing voters – given his own switch from Labour to the Tories and back again.
Last summer Rosenfeld, former chief executive of Minerva, was quoted in the Sunday Times saying that David Cameron was “the man for the job – no doubt about it“.
Labour had “run out of time“, he mused. “People have had enough. We are tired of the whole Labour message.” In fact David Cameron was “the only person who has the real capability of governing.”
Hard on the heels of the lists of the prime minister’s meetings with media executives since last year’s election comes a similar list from Nick Clegg.
It shows how close he too was to News International, attending the company’s summer party and meeting Rebekah Brooks and James Harding (the Times’ editor) twice, as well as James Murdoch and Dominic Mohan, the editor of the Sun.
But he is much closer to the Independent, meeting their editor, Simon Kelner, and owner, Evgeny Lebedev, three times each.
Here is the full list:
The lists are out. We now know everyone who has been to Chequers since the election, and separately, every media figure the prime minister has met in that time.
- James Murdoch has stayed at Chequers recently, and Rebekah Brooks stayed twice last year. (Incidentally, so has the Qatari prime minister – the only foreign dignitary to do so.)
- We know that Cameron met Brooks over Christmas socially, but apparently there was another meeting in December – although we are not given details of where or when.
- Rupert Murdoch was the first media figure to talk to Cameron after the election – but we already knew that.
- Six out of Cameron’s first ten media meetings after winning the election were with people News International.
Of interest, but not mentioned in these lists: Andy Coulson stayed at Chequers in March, two months after quitting Number 10.
Here are the full details:
Grant Shapps, the housing minister, announced on Thursday that social housing providers will build 170,000 new affordable homes over the next four years, 20,000 more than expected and a lot more than some doomsayers warned would be possible.
Unsurprisingly, the communities department hailed this as a great triumph, but there remain serious questions about whether there will be enough subsidised homes for everyone who needs one.
So what should we celebrate, and what is there to worry about in Thursday’s announcement?
Sitting through a stream of repetitive questions put to the prime minister on Wednesday, ears pricked when Steve Barclay, new intake high flyer and member of the powerful public accounts committee, asked David Cameron whether the rot spread beyond dodgy coppers (my way of putting it, not his) to other public services. He asked:
Will [the police investigation] consider others who provide stories, such as paramedics, accident and emergency doctors and prison governors and who might also be subject to corruption?