The speed of the phone hacking crisis has been startling and has led to comparisons to the infamous Watergate scandal in America. Today Prime Minister David Cameron recalled parliament and the debate that ensued created as many questions as it answered. Young Academic correspondent Robert Gant reports.
In the aftermath of questioning by the Home Select Committee of key players from the Metropolitan Police and News International, today’s debate in the House of Commons is as important as any other in the last 100 years.
Today At The Commons…
The debate started with David Cameron laying out measures for more transparency in press-government-police relations. More tellingly the Prime Minister then admitted that ‘with hindsight’ he would not have employed Andy Coulson as his press spokesman and advisor. Many will have seen that as inevitable. The PM then began to address the fact that Neil Wallis, another former employee of News International gave ‘informal’ advice to Andy Couslon during and after the general election campaign.
Labour leader Ed Milliband accused the PM of making a ‘catastrophic error of judgement’ and went on to insist that Andy Couslon should face criminal charges if it is proved he has repeated lied about his involvement and knowledge of phoning hacking during his time at the News of the World.
The mood inside the house was tense, with angry exchanges between the Government and Opposition leaders to the backdrop of boisterous protests from backbench MPs of all sides.
As MPs from all parties started asking questions of the PM concerning matters ranging from his meetings with Rebekah Brooks to his insistence that he has acted properly and within the law at all times regarding his appointment of Andy Couslon and his dealing with News International, he answers became increasingly dismissive and unclear. It became clear that more intriguing questions were beginning to come to light.
Why, for example, did Nick Clegg not nod his head, or say aye, on one single occasion throughout the Prime Ministers entire speech to the house? In fact it wouldn’t be outrageous to speculate that Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister looked more uncomfortable sat alongside the PM and Chancellor George Osborne than he has at any time since the coalition formed.
Mr Clegg was a pale and motionless figure for almost all of the debate which raises serious questions about the strength of the coalition in what are certainly the most testing times this Government has faced.
Another question that hasn’t been asked, either today or at yesterdays Home Select Committees meeting is perhaps more vital when considering David Cameron’s relationship with Rupert Murdoch and News International. During the questions of Rupert Murdoch and his son James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch discussed being sad his relationship with ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown had broken down as they ‘shared the same values’.
Nobody has asked either the PM or Mr Murdoch himself why, if he shared the same values as Mr Brown he instructed his newspapers to back the Conservative Party at last year’s general election. The answer it seems would put the PMs relationship with Mr Murdoch in an incredibly clear light.
While Gordon Brown and the Labour Party also have murky ties with the press, Gordon Brown did stand his ground on a two clear issues. He refused to pass legislation weakening the BBC as an institution and he refused to diminish the power of media regulator OFCOM.
Both were key demands of Rupert Murdoch. Both were things that within 6 months of being Prime Minister David Cameron had taken steps towards doing, firstly by freezing license fees to cut BBC funding and secondly by including OFCOM in his list of QUANGOs that had to be dismantled. He later had to back down on that action.
While neither Ed Milliband nor David Cameron ‘won’ this round of debate in the House today it did show that the Prime Minister is very much a man under pressure. More questions are going to be asked in the coming weeks about Andy Couslon, BSkyB, Rupert Murdoch and what the PM knew. Many political observers will agree his answers are going to have to become a lot clearer to satisfy a public who’s trust in politicians, the press and the police might well be at an all time low.