#Murdochgate: “No efforts were made to properly control reporters activities and the finances”

That from Andy Coulson in the Commons today. He and the News International team are sticking to the story that Goodman was a single bad apple even though by their own admission they deliberately ran an extremely loose ship. That Goodman rather than Coulson took the jail term adds to the faint smell of corporate evasion. Here’s what wikipedia currently says about plausible deniability:

…refers to the denial of blame in loose and informal chains of command where upper rungs quarantine the blame to the lower rungs. In the case that illegal or otherwise disreputable and unpopular activities become public, high-ranking officials may deny any awareness of such act or any connection to the agents used to carry out such act.

Coulson kept rigidly to the News International corporate line: “as far as I am aware there is no evidence linking the non-royal phone hacking by Glenn Mulcaire with any member of the News of the World staff.” Although he works for the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition (and importantly, putative Prime Minister), according to Guido he still “acts like he is still the boss” in the office he supposedly once left in disgrace.

It depends where you come from on the political spectrum as to what you are likely to make of all of this. For the most part, Tories have taken the view that if they have no evidence of malfeasance Coulson’s critics should better put out or shut up. Labourites view it as a way of damaging their most effective political opponent since, erm, John Major.

In fact, as we noted earlier, the underlying issue here is that a private corporation appears to be systematically invading the privacy of citizens for its own private commercial purposes. Those voices who rightly proselytised the need to keep a weather eye on the police and other organs of the state, have suddenly fallen silent when the potential miscreant turned out to be a fabulously wealthy Australian-born, naturalised US citizen with a (possibly erroneous) reputation of helping those he ‘befriends’ get into office.

Nothing more can be expected from Murdoch and Co. A parliamentary select committee is not a court of law. It cannot summons the former Murdoch director back from the United States to be confronted with his previous assertion that Goodman was the only man. Even the company’s team who did appear seemed happy to ignore tangible evidence that Mulcaire was not the only lawbreaker known to senior management.

For now, Coulson keeps his job. But despite the spin, he is damaged goods. Not to mention a nasty little hostage to fortune. The longer Mr Cameron is tied so closely to a Murdoch ‘company man’, the more scope for people to start looking for correlations between Murdoch’s considerable UK business interests and the actions of the next Conservative Government. Mr Cameron has already shown a slightly disturbing willingness to comply to Mr Murdoch’s wishes in at least one key regard.

It’s possible Cameron will, at a time of his own choosing, let Coulson go as quietly as can be arranged. In the meantime there may be some interesting hares out there and running. We await to see if any of them make it home in one intelligiable piece…

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  • DC

    If Coulson isn’t capable to run a quite perceptibly grubby News of the World paper can he properly belong as the head of media for an aspiring political party hoping to govern nationally (all of this against the backdrop of public despair towards MPs)?

    Coulson already appears to have ‘underlying health problems’ and the Tories aren’t even in power yet; give me Alastair Campbell any day.

  • DC

    …and just to add the Tories don’t need heavy spin as the situation facing Labour was different when running as New Labour in the mid 90s.

    The press were arguably tory in sympathy and were the last hurdle needing overcome. Labour were aggrieved after the 92 election loss and much of it was rightly placed at the feet of the media given the treatment of Kinnock.

    The Tories obviously don’t and won’t have this Labourist problem that really confronted Labour back then. They have no need for labour spin tactics as it were. Bear in mind even Campbell the man Labour media man resigned in 2003.

    At this rate Cameron runs the risk of the Tories picking up where they left off prior to 1997 re ridicule and hypocrisy.

  • Pete Baker
  • Driftwood

    seen Coulson on Newsnight there in complete denial. ‘Done nothing wrong guv’ Didn’t know what was going on, rogue reporters, It wasn’t me you can’t prove it was me etc etc. Even as a Cameron supporter it was laughable. Murdochs lawyers saved his skin, but this one will run and run, unless the Tories find an opportune moment to give him some gardening leave.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    Mick

    As I said previously there is NO available evidence of any wrong doing on the part of Coulson, stupidity and poor management practices maybe. The Met have no interest and they have already looked carefully at the facts.

    So all of this now looks like smear and innuendo sponsored by Labour supporters. The nudge, nudge, wink. wink, has been overplayed as the Guardian completely over egged what it had and the story has collapsed.

    People can wring their hands and say he must have known until the cows come home, but unless new evidence is revealed Coulson will survive easily.

  • DC

    FD you’re still missing the main point really and that is why do the Tories need a man like Coulson whenever the problems facing Labour were pre 92 in particular and pre 97 more generally entirely media in the making?

    While Cameron might think himself as heir to Blair the Tories aren’t Labour, surprise surprise, and therefore do they really need heavy spin and men like Coulson. Historically and now today contemporarily speaking the mainstream media are actually in favour of the Tory party!!!

  • Mick Fealty

    Personally, as you know FD, I have no axe to grind with the Tories. But you really have to turn a massively blind eye to the irregularities in this case to say it’s all smoke and no fire.

    As I said above, the problem we should be alive to is not a party political one. It is that a private corporation appears to be systematically invading the privacy of citizens for its own private commercial purposes.

    If I were David Cameron, I would not like to be seen to be this close to a key lobby interest in an important debate about the future of media either. Particularly this far out from a general election, let alone after one.

    Blair was way too close to the same man, and we know he only got through the F1 controversy by the skin of his teeth by lying about it in public. Something the Tories of the time were rightly livid about.

    Cameron very sensibly has battened down on this and let his spin doctor and Coulson’s former employer’s lawyers do all the talking.

    But if he is really sensible, Cameron will let Coulson go. Not because he has to, but because his spin doctor is now a hostage to fortune for the reasons laid out above.

    Meanwhile other lobbyists are only now scrambling for their Tory insiders (http://url.ie/23ki)… ‘Rupert’ may be toxic, but he certainly doesn’t lack political foresight…

  • frustrated democrat

    Mick

    When the Conservatives are trying to achieve a massive swing for power they need the best media communications they can get for their message. It seems Coulson has been getting the message across pretty well with a high teens lead which is why Labour would like to see him removed.

    I think this sums up where it is going…

    http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/5198583/coulson-escapes-unscathed.thtml

    Mick – maybe there are NO lily white journalists nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

  • Mick Fealty

    FD,

    All he says is that the leadership will be relieved that no new evidence has arisen. I agree. I also agree that this committee was an attempt by Labour to get a guy that’s been running rings around them.

    But none of the pieces I’ve written on this subject spend much time on Coulson at all, rather it is the continuing relationship it implies between the Conservatives and News Corps and the latters apparent capacity to break the law with impunity which concerns me.

    Maybe… ha, ha, ha… ALL journalists pay people to go on the kind of mob-handed fishing trips that the cops can only dream of… ha, ha, ha…

    Yeah? Well, maybe not!

  • frustrated democrat

    Mick

    So is it a shortage funds that stops most journalists or their lilywhite ethics?

    As to the the connection between politics and the media it was ever so – Labour had their days in the sun now it is the Conservatives then it will be Labour again. The media will still be powerful and often lead the opposition, although Murdoch may have disappeared before Labour return.

  • Mick Fealty

    FD,

    Are you really that cynical?

  • frustrated deomocrat

    Let me concentrate on those things I may be able to change and accept those I can’t, however much I may disagree with them. I just think life is too short to go tilting at windmills.

    Is that cynicism or an acceptance of reality?

    It is why I just wish Nationalists/Republicans would openly accept that a UI is not going to happen in the next generation and concentrate on making this a better place to live for everybody in the meantime.

    In the same way I have had to accept that it is better for all the people of NI that we have murderers in our government and not out murdering more people.

  • Guano

    I agree with Mick: the main issue here is not Coulson himself, but the invasion of privacy by a private corporation for private gain. This leads to another issue: the inaction of public institutions, like the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, or watchdogs like the PCC when dealing with a powerful private corporation.

    I’m intrigued by the line being taken by certain blogs and commenters, which is that this isn’t a story because no-one can prove that Coulson knew anything. I think that this is indicative of the nervousness in the Conservative Party and in News International about the wider story: the word has gone out to try to narrow this story down to a very narrow issue about what Coulson knew, which will presumably be difficult to prove. The wider issue is still there, and won’t go away (however many bloggers and commenters try to claim that it isn’t an story).

  • Mick Fealty

    Guano,

    That’s pretty close to my reading of it too. I’d add too that there was probably a far amount of nervousness on the Labour front bench too, since Murdoch is not a man you cross if you are already big in politics.

    The initial equation between Coulson and McBride was an entirely false one. Not because of the scale of their wrongdoing, or because one was in the employ of a party and the other not, but because one was a conspiracy to cook up foul stories (not all of which were entirely groundless), whilst the other presided (unknowingly) over a private spy ring against his commercial master’s political enemies.

    It demonstrates where the online power lies though. In some ways, if the Tory blogosphere decides (and they did, almost to a wo/man) that it is not a story, the press can safely disregard it.

    Admire or abhor it, the self discipline of the centre right blogosphere in the face of what they clearly knew to be an appalling degradation of representative democracy was an impressive piece of collective inaction.

    If only one of them had broken ranks you might have taken more seriously the wider claim that the blogosphere will always hold the MSM to account.

    I suspect this now signals what happened about four years ago in the States where the political blogosphere now separates and prepares for war. And where truth heads south for the winter.

    Lastly, this all throws a slightly different light on the Damian Green story. If Coulson presided over a spy operation at NOTW, it’s not hard to see the parallels in the grooming of young politically-minded civil servants to disclose embarrassing titbits to members of the Opposition.

    I know some good people in the London press who argue that this is fine, since it is the Opposition and not the press getting this information. Churchill had spies in the Air Ministry for instance.

    That kind of works for me but doesn’t. Particularly when much of the material was not used to directly challenge the government but to create often minor stories of bureaucratic incompetence for a press now baying for the death of a government they once irrationally fawned over.

    Pete’s link to Dennis Potter’s valedictory shot at Murdoch is well worth watching. It’s full of quotable snippets, but this one struck me as pretty appropriate:

    “The pollution of the British press is an important part of the pollution of British political life. And an important part of the cynicism and misperception of our own realities.”

    People like Peter Oborne have been inveighing against this very pollution for some years now. All I can say is that it will likely end badly for all concerned. Including the Tory blogosphere.