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How New Labour sat on its hands over Murdoch

Although former prime minister Gordon Brown is rightly upset about the underhand, not to say criminal methods, used by the Murdoch press to obtain sensitive medical details about his son, the fact remains that New Labour did nothing to upset the applecart while they were in power.

The use of “blagging” by journalists or people working for them as a means of securing information is not exactly a new practice. Pretending to be someone else – in this case Brown himself – to obtain confidential information was actually identified as illegal in the Data Protection Act in 1998.

But the punishment was considered too weak. So the last Labour government led by Brown himself made changes to the law. However, Christopher Graham, the information commissioner who is responsible for checking compliance with the law, said today:

We really need to get a serious penalty in place to stop this happening ... Frankly, we need to say to people 'You will go to prison if you do this'. The serious penalty that is needed has been on the statute book since 2008 - Section 77 of the 2008 Criminal Justice Act provides for a custodial sentence of up to two years in the Crown Court, but it has been suspended for three years because of a stand-off between the Press and the politicians.

Inaction was the byword, even though phone hacking was known to be taking place in the early years of the Blair government. In his autobiography, Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, confirms that the cabinet discussed the “failed relationship” between the media and politics as far back as 2002.

He adds: “We discussed the issue back and forth for the next three years, but Tony never felt the moment was right to speak out…Gordon, who was courting the press, had no intention of agreeing to anything that might upset them.”

When the original Metropolitan Police inquiry into phone hacking unexpectedly petered out, many were suspicious why this had happened. Did the government pursue this? To ask the question is to answer it.

Today, Alan Johnson, the former Labour home secretary, told Sky News that the government did not set up an inquiry into phone hacking because ministers would have been accused of exploiting the issue for party political gain! He said:

If I'd have ordered a public inquiry at the time, I'd have probably been castigated because in the run-up to a general election people would have said it was an attempt to get at Andy Coulson who'd been appointed by Cameron. So you can't take today's knowledge and just apply it retrospectively, you have to look at the information that was available at the time.

Despite the despicable invasion of his privacy by The Sun in 2006, Brown himself continued to lend his name to Murdoch’s publications. In March 2008, explaining the government’s action during the financial meltdown, he told Sun readers: “My pledge to the British people - to homeowners, to businesses, to households everywhere - is that I will do nothing that puts the stability of the economy at risk.”

A year later, News International’s papers withdrew their support for New Labour after more than a decade and switched their support to David Cameron. It wasn’t long before Cameron too was drawn into the Murdoch web, bringing former News of the World editor Coulson into Downing Street.

After just 14 months in office, the Coalition is staggering from pillar to post, buffeted not just by the scandal but by innumerable economic problems and a widespread hostility to everything it stands for. With the lid now blown off the incestuous relationships between police, Murdoch, New Labour and the Tories, a full-blown political, not to say constitutional crisis, is gathering steam.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
12 July 2011

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Jonathan says:

The 'summons' has been issued to the Murdochs which means – especially given the 'looking for expert advice' that there is an 'unintended consequences' fallout to this that a toothless parliament, a Machiavellian government, and a joint 'national government' 'front' is unprepared for. This 'approach' has Select Committees dusting down their Constitutional law books, now they have to proceed, even though anyone familiar with the area knows at the very least they have powers 'to put him to the question', they, also, will shudder. Flash, arrogant – and very nasty, and equally criminal Kelvin McKenzie stated all important stories went 'up' during one of his 'brash' performances, a 'kiss and tell' (interestingly on Sky as to his desire to get the 100%) - 'I know, I know everything' cross they seem to have of the bully and the secrets on everybody boarding schoolboy. It seems to be a caricaturist of a lot of them; using Campbell as a regular on this is so provocative to those who opposed war, to those that oppose policy presented through more twists and turns than a maze. Each of these policies causes domestically and internationally more deaths than even that war. And that, and its nature, will now snowball, to sharpen the matters, and he will face the indignant of the possibility of arrest as he mounts his plan to escape: Pinochet will haunt them. The summons has been issued: not an 'invitation'. A shudder runs through the state machine, a mirror, a reflection, in the best philosophical manner might take on a life of its own. How to twist it in the press; who to ridicule; who to damn; who to smear; what to do if you're an editor with a vested interest (and which haven’t from all of the establishment)?who?what?where? Oh how they must be crying for a meteorite, Italy won't do, the US won't do, for that is the real source of all this. Then what? The 'whole world watching'. Oh Kent uni, what revenge, so many looking to this to revenge them, Sheridan, now that is an irony, lying at a perjure trial – a long line, as with the links to previous AWTW items – I think a collections of such links should go up for those attracted through this and its related issues. The skill now is to join them & look for and lay out the essence.

The open nature of this is going to cause them added problems, for the ridiculous nature of the Kray Triplet Andy Hayman's performance, not to mention their whole, each and every pundit and statement – 'deserves a gallantry medal' for his total histrionic response – as he admits now – to set the guideline to those involved to follow. I’d say that stinks of conspiracy: a rather heavy sentence. Let us remember, as a Court they cut off, sliced, chopped, separated it from its god-given body, the head of a King, and at that moment, as the slice diced, whole separated the head was that 'of a traitor' not an ex-king. Then philosophy had only De Carte to grasp the 'machine'. Power has difficulty 'retiring' when its time is up, mind you that fight trains the necessity of the new power. They, though, don't really like where the logic of all this takes them.

as my granny used to say: now is the time for every good man to come to the aid of the party.

Sam says:

Good post. I'm beginning to wonder about the whole New Labour thing now; did Blair want to move to the right because he was worried about voter approval, or Murdoch approval?

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