As the heads continue to roll in the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal — with Rebekah Brooks (the CEO of News International) and Les Hinton (the CEO of Dow Jones) both resigning from Murdoch’s fast-crumbling media empire, and Sir Paul Stephenson and his deputy John Yates from the embattled Metropolitan Police, just one of the three parties deeply implicated in this affair — the government itself — has so far refused to accept the implications of its deep involvement in the crooked behaviour of the News of the World and its parent company, News International.
This is all the more remarkable given David Cameron’s close relationship with not one but two editors of the News of the World, who were both in charge when the worst of the hacking took place — Rebekah Brooks, married to his close friend, the racehorse trainer (and former Etonian) Charlie Brooks, and Andy Coulson, who, of course, was the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications until January this year, Both Coulson and Brooks have, of course, spent time in police custody in the last week and a half.
In his desire not to be contaminated by his connections, David Cameron has been resorting to increasingly desperate behaviour, publicly abandoning Coulson, and generally denouncing the whole of Murdoch’s media empire as though he had not employed Coulson, and had not been close friends with Brooks.
This is in spite of the fact that, in May, David Cameron “denied that it was inappropriate” for him to have had dinner at Rebekah Brooks’ home (with James Murdoch as a guest as well) “while the government was considering the company’s takeover bid for BSkyB,” as the Guardian described it, and also that it has just been revealed that Cameron invited Coulson to Chequers in March, two months after he resigned as Director of Communications, a revelation that led Ivan Lewis, the shadow culture secretary, to accuse the Prime Minister of showing an “extraordinary lack of judgment.”
It is not known quite what else tied Cameron to the Murdochs, but it is abundantly clear that, before last year’s General Election, in exchange for the fabled support that everyone craved from Murdoch from Margaret Thatcher onwards, Cameron promised Murdoch that any stumbling block to his 100 percent takeover of BSKyB would be conveniently removed. I think we can also be sure that copious amounts of BBC-bashing also took place in Cameron’s cosy chats with various Murdoch dignitaries, and also that the liberalisation of the media was discussed, as was hinted at before the election, so that the prospect of a British Fox News was a reality.
However, to understand the scale of the corruption at the very top of the government, readers need only reflect that it took nothing less than the biggest scandal in living memory to stop the BSkyB takeover (giving Murdoch 100 percent control of BSkyB rather than 39 percent) even though that would been the death knell for any notion of fairness and competition in the British media.
Now that the unexpected has happened, Cameron is under assault from all sides, as he should be. Ed Miliband has found his voice and his purpose in attacking him, and in the Guardian today, Roy Greenslade called for Nick Clegg to overthrow Cameron in a coup. In another article, Patrick Wintour, Nicholas Watt and Vikram Dodd nailed how vulnerable the Prime Minister now is:
The “firestorm” he himself described is still raging, and as the body count rises in the form of arrests or resignations, he looks increasingly exposed.
Every day as the crisis continues, his judgment, and that of the chancellor, George Osborne, in appointing the former editor of the News of the World Andy Coulson as his director of communications looks increasingly inexplicable.
The reporters also picked up on the fallout from Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation, noting that Cameron “appears to be facing the thinly-disguised wrath of a Met commissioner angry that he is being accused of an improperly contractual relationship with Neil Wallis, a former News of the World deputy editor, when the prime minister arguably insisted on an even less appropriate relationship with Coulson.” They added that Stephenson also implied that he could not impart operational information to Cameron since he was too compromised with the chief suspects.”
As Sir Paul Stephenson stated, in the most damning passage: “Unlike Mr. Coulson, Mr. Wallis had not resigned from the News of the World or, to the best of my knowledge, been in any way associated with the original phone hacking investigation.”
The Guardian also confirmed the extent to which Cameron had been caught out favouring Murdoch over any other media proprietor, pointing out that:
[T]he record of meetings between Cameron and News International executives released on Friday does not reveal a modernising prime minister governing in the national interest, but a victim of a vested interest. His meetings with News International executives in a year exceed those with all other news organisations put together. Not a single figure from the BBC was granted an audience. It is one of those assemblages of small facts that change the way a public figure is viewed.
I do hope that the way Cameron is being perceived is changing in a negative manner, and, moreover, one that is permanent and not a temporary blip. He was not, of course, personally involved in phone-hacking, and nor is it a criminal offence to have cosied up to one media mogul in the most monstrous manner possible, and, moreover, to the exclusion of all the others. However, given Cameron’s demonstrable pro-Murdoch bias — particularly in the shameful manner in which business secretary Vince Cable was slapped down last December when he criticised Murdoch and the BSkyB takeover — and given the very public exposure of his poor judgment, and that of the Chancellor, George Osborne, when it came to appointing Andy Coulson, first as Director of Communications for the Conservative party, and then for No. 10, and ignoring all those who advised that this was not a good idea, I cannot see how Cameron can stay in office.
Just focus on the basics: The Prime Minister, warned about the track record of his Director of Communications, nevertheless employed him, and then, eight months after the General Election, watched him depart under a cloud as the phone-hacking scandal resurfaced. Just six months later, the scandal reemerged as the biggest scandal in living memory, and the Prime Minister’s former Director of Communications was arrested and questioned by the Metropolitan Police.
If this happened under a Labour government, there would be calls for the Prime Minister’s head. The situation should not be any different simply because the current Prime Minister clearly has no principles whatsoever and believes that he was born to rule. Cameron’s only practical experience before he became Prime Minister was in PR, but as a scandal of epic proportions engulfs him, he should be aware that running a country is not a PR exercise, and that reputations are not just something for other people, or a matter to be adjusted with a well-scripted presentation. In the real world, as opposed to the fantasy world concocted by the Prime Minister and his close aides, reputations can be fatally wounded, and careers abruptly curtailed.