The phone hacking scandal is becoming increasingly confusing. During the debate on the issue today, I confess I became utterly lost by Ed Miliband’s long explanation of the relationships and personalities involved. David Cameron was able to use phrases like “conspiracy theory” and “tissue of intruige” which brand the scandal as a Westminster fabrication. John Rentoul is right to say that Cameron’s critics need much simpler language to explain the problem with the Prime Minister’s judgement and relationships.
Labour’s tactic is to doggedly pursue the ‘smoking gun’ of lore: the archived e-mail or the scribbled note that proves that Cameron knew more, and knew it earlier. At yesterday’s select committee hearings, the questions were pitched to discover similar key facts that could skewer Murdochs R and J.
This is risky in both cases, because such evidence may never emerge. It is also counter-productive, because on the meantime, both the politicians and media barons get to punt the difficult questions with “let’s wait until the inquiry” or “I don’t want to jeapordise the criminal investigation”.
A narrow fixation on evidence that could further damage the Prime Minister, or ruin Rebakah Brooks, means that the wider issue – polical, police and corporate corruption – is left to fallow. Rupert Murdoch presided over the expansion of a corporate culture in which the phone-hacking of murder victims and other obscenities were the inevitable end result. Whatever he knew and whenever he was told, he is at fault, he is to blame. Meanwhile, David Cameron’s first act as Prime Minister was to employ someone who he knew had come straight from that morally barren Hades. There may not be a smoking gun, but you can almost see the steam coming off this scandal.
A few quick comments on the unfolding phone hacking scandal, and what it says about the double-standards of our society and politics.
First, let us note that the images featured on the front pages of many newspapers yesterday were those of the most iconic cases of recent years. Sarah Payne, hollyandjessica, Millie Dowler, Madeline McCann: the news-stands appeared to be some macabre Abduction Hall of Fame. This is actually a dream come true for rivals of News of the World. It is the invasion of privacy of these families that the rival newspapers are keen to report, because they too know that it is images of these children that sell. And by pasting the famous images onto Page 1, I would say that they too are stepping, once more, into the grief of these families.
Meanwhile, black men and boys (the victims of inner-city stabbings that are far more common than the abduction of white school-girls) don’t seem to be mentioned in the reports. Is this because Glen Mulcaire and his News of the World handlers did not think the stories were sufficiently interesting? Or that today’s politicians and editors judge that an invasion of the privacy of (say) Damilola Taylor’s family would not sufficiently motivate the public, in a way that the Soham murders apparently do? Whichever explanation is closer to the truth, it says something unpleasant about our society and our media. It is ironic that, in expressing outrage at the practices of the tabloids, we fall back on the precisely those assumptions and values that we otherwise claim to despise.
A final note, also related to public opinion. In the chamber of the House of Commons yesterday, the Prime Minister made some throwaway comment about how the phone-hacking scandal was no longer “just about celebrities and politicians”. It is sometimes difficult to remember that both those groups are humans beings too! They deserve precisely the same protection from the law as the families of murdered schoolgirls. The Rule of Law is the Rule of Law. When it is broken, the Prime Minister’s outrage should not be contingent on who the victim is.
They’re discussing similar issues in the USA too.
Now cross-posted with comments at LiberalConspiracy.org
Or rather, “State multiculturalism has failed” jumps the shark.
David Cameron had made a speech about multiculturalism this weekend. When I heard news reports about his remarks, I thought to myself that this was probably nothing new. I have only just got around to reading the speech today, and unfortunately, I have been proved right.
Cameron argues for the need to separate the concept of Islamist violence, from mainstream, peaceful Islam. He complains about public money being given to ‘gatekeeper’ organisations who claim to speak for all Muslims. He argues for a definition of identity that can encompass all British citizens, regardless of their faith or origins.
Over at Liberal Conspiracy, Sunny Hundal points out that these are issues that we thrashed out long ago, and a sensible consensus has already been reached.
I vehemently attacked “state multiculturalism”, as Cameron did yesterday, back in 2006. At the time there was a problem with the government funding “community leaders” to deal with integration and counter-terrorism. There isn’t now. Organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain haven’t received state funding for years.
Sunder Katwala of the Fabian Society is equally scathing:
David Cameron said next to nothing new yesterday. Breathlessly briefed and largely received as one of his most important speeches as Prime Minister, I struggled to spot an original thought that he hasn’t been habitually been expressing for more than five years, from equating Islamist ideology with Nazism when running for Tory leader in 2005 or his frequent attacks on state-sponsored multiculturalism. Repeating himself as Prime Minister on the international stage gives it a certain status.
Cameron’s core narrative claim – that “muscular liberalism” must now replace decades of a lily-livered refusal to articulate our shared values – does depend upon one very silly founding premise: that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Jack Straw and David Blunkett, John Major and Michael Howard, and presumably Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit too, were rarely or never willing to articulate shared British values. This is patently absurd.
The Prime Minister’s suggestion that we forge a shared British identity is embarrassingly behind the times. The 9/11 terrorist attacks kick-started the debate. Wars in the Middle-East and terrorist attacks in Europe have kept the discussion spinning. Entire books have been written, published and reprinted during that time. Billy Bragg’s Progressive Patriot is one that springs to mind: it deals with far right extremisim, and how British people reconcile the fact that we all have (at least) two flags. Kenan Malik’s From Fatwa to Jihad is another obvious example, where state multiculturalism is impressively critiqued.
David Cameron’s speech is soooo 2005. This isn’t leadership. He needs some new ideas… and some new speech writers who can articulate them.
I thought it was better delivered than the Prime Minister’s, although that was to be expected. The rhetoric flowed more easily too, and several of the passages could resonate with undecideds, despite being deceptions:
For Labour there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in.
This looks like nonsense to me: Labour politicians know that neighbourhoods and communities and families are important – they are where much of the state intervention is directly targeted, and the place where state agencies deliver the rest. Regardless, the Big State meme will take hold, especially with ‘Brown-the-Control-Freak’ at the helm.
The passage where he attributes “there’s no such thing as society” to the current Government was a brave gamble, but one that I suspect will fail. In reminding the voters of one of Thatcher’s most offensive quips, he also plants the idea that the current societal problems are the result of her destructive policies. It is tightrope rhetoric.
However, it was here that he lost me:
This attitude, this whole health and safety, human rights act culture, has infected every part of our life. If you’re a police officer you now cannot pursue an armed criminal without first filling out a risk assessment form. Teachers can’t put a plaster on a child’s grazed knee without calling a first aid officer.
Health and Safety Culture is surely inspired by Litigation Culture. When a child comes home with a plaster on its knee, angry parents are going to ask, not unreasonably, for a full account. Likewise, who would not want a police-officer to consult with his superiors, before accosting someone who may be armed? I’ve listened to several exchanges on police frequencies, where officers were considering approaching such suspects. It takes time, but its safe and sensible.
Such legislation, however inconvenient, is inspired by an actual concern for the Health and Safety of our children, and our police officers, &ct. I seriously doubt the Conservatives would change these laws substantially. Its a populist platitude.
Oh yeah, and attacking the Human Rights Act is a deal breaker for this blogger.