Daily Archives: April 30, 2012

David Cameron is a good ally to have in a tight spot: that is one obvious conclusion to be drawn from his performance over the last 50 minutes in the House of Commons.

The prime minister had been drawn to the Commons to defend Jeremy Hunt – to the fury of many Tory MPs – at the decision of the Speaker. (The front bench was packed with Tory ministers, but not one Lib Dem was visible.)

There, he raged, fumed and argued until he was red in the face to insist that Hunt had done no wrong – and equally that the right processes were taking place to ensure that this was the case.

Along the way he casually insulted several Labour MPs; he asked why Denis Skinner was not yet drawing a pension, and whether Margaret Hodge (chair of the influential public accounts committee) had “strayed” into political ground.

The defence was robust and took various different forms:

How could Labour get high-handed over Murdoch’s influence when Blair and Brown had broken bread with the Australian tycoon? (“The relationship between politicians and the media has been too close for decadeslook for one moment at the number of meetings that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had with Rupert Murdoch when they were prime minister”.)

Why were they demanding ministerial resignations over a special adviser’s bad behaviour when none occurred over the activities of Damian McBride or Charlie Whelan? Why wouldn’t they let Lord Leveson get on with his ongoing inquiry into the links between press and politicians? Why did Labour call for Hunt’s resignation within 23 minutes of the damaging emails being published?

“It would be the easiest thing in the world for a prime minister to

 Read more

Nick Clegg, Andrew Lansley and David Cameron at Guy's HospitalA month ago, ministers gathered round the cabinet table to be told by Andrew Lansley that the health bill was about to finally pass through parliament and become an act. Those attending banged their desks – partly in celebration, partly with pure relief. After 14 months of delays, negotiations and public rows, one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation from this session was finally about to be left behind.

Except it wasn’t. From next month MPs will start voting all over again on Lansley’s plans. What many in the coalition didn’t realise was that the act (as it now is) made so many changes to the infrastructure of the NHS that parliament will face a series of votes simply to create the bodies necessary to make them work. Clinical commissioning groups, Health Watch, Health Education England, Public Health England: the plethora of new quangos at the heart of the act all need to be legislated for. Read more

Tory and Labour members of the culture select committee are at odds over how far to criticise the Murdoch family barely 24 hours before publishing a report on phone hacking and News International.

The 11 members of the committee are set to vote on several of the most disputed issues at a meeting today in an attempt to forge some sort of consensus ahead of publication tomorrow.

But the group has been deeply divided in discussions, with Labour MPs such as party vice-chairman Tom Watson keen for a more scathing judgment on James Murdoch, in particular. Mr Murdoch was called in front of the committee on July 19 and recalled on November 10.

During his second appearance, when he repeatedly denied being aware of wrongdoing within the company, Mr Watson told Mr Murdoch: “You must be the first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise.”

Mr Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer at News Corp, blamed Tom Crone, former legal affairs manager at News of the World, and Colin Myler, former editor of the paper, for failing to tell him about evidence showing illegal phone-hacking was widespread at the Sunday newspaper.

He repeatedly said he had been unaware of the contents of a crucial email that led to huge payouts to victims of hacking – a claim that was swiftly disputed by both former colleagues. In the private committee discussions, some of the Tory members have been more forgiving of Mr Murdoch than their Labour counterparts, insisting that his version of events is feasible.

Those party divisions worsened last week, with some Labour MPs privately critical of John Whittingdale, committee chairman, for making comments supportive of Jeremy Hunt, culture secretary, over his handling of the News Corp bid for BSkyB.

With five Labour MPs and five Tories on the committee, the casting vote could end up with Adrian Sanders, a mild-mannered Devon MP who is its only Liberal Democrat.

In early April, when James Murdoch resigned as chairman of BSkyB, some pundits speculated that this was somehow connected to the imminent report from the committee. Mr Murdoch, however, merely said he wanted to distance the company from events at News International, saying he was “determined that the interests of BSkyB should not be undermined by matters outside the scope of the company”.

The report, which has been delayed for four months, will criticise other senior News International figures, including Rupert Murdoch.

The document will be published overnight – to prevent the full contents leaking – and not released until 10.30am on Tuesday, with a lock-in for journalists ahead of a 11.30am press conference.

It is unlikely to refer to either Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of News International, or Andy Coulson, former editor of News of the World. Both have been arrested by police but have denied any knowledge of widespread phone-hacking at the company.

The report will criticise both Mr Crone and Mr Myler for misleading evidence given to parliament three years ago. Mr Myler, former editor of the News of the World, and Mr Crone, the newspaper’s former legal manager, will be accused of failing to disclose their awareness of the full extent of phone-hacking at the paper when appearing at the culture select committee in 2009.

Members, whose meetings have been attended by a parliamentary lawyer, had wanted to publish their report before Christmas but have waited for the

 Read more