Monday, April 30, 2012

Layer 534 . . . Hunt, Cameron, Murdoch, BSkyB, and Urgent Questions for the Prime Minister

So the latest polls indicate that support for the Conservatives has fallen back to 29% - which is pretty much their 'core' vote. This simply confirms that come hell or come high water somewhere between a quarter and a third of our population will continue to support the Nasty Party - either because those supporters are wealthy enough to directly benefit from Tory policies, OR because they are stupid enough to believe Tory propaganda and the crap published by Tory supporters who act as Conservative cheerleaders in our mass media.

Anyone with half a brain now understands that there really isn't any such thing as 'compassionate' Conservatism. Meet the new boss - same as the old boss. Clearly Cameron wasn't just trying to placate (and finesse) the extreme right wing of his party when he said that his mission was to finish whatever it was that Thatcher started. He really means it. He really is bent on privatising or at least marketising (which is almost as bad) our public services, on cutting them back as far as possible, on boosting the entry of private enterprise into our public services, and on selling off anything he can get away with selling off. Just like the old boss.

I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, I really did. But look at his recent behaviour. A stupid and nasty budget. One of his own backbenchers* calling him and Osborne a couple of posh boys who understand nothing about real people and their lives. A lack of apparent concern that the national economy is back in reverse gear, and back in recession. And now the revelations as to what he and his Culture Secretary have been up to vis a vis Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp empire.

As a matter of fact, even Tory commentators have been expressing their disquiet. Here's Simon Heffer ( a dyed in the wool Thatcherite) writing for the Mail today -
There is enormous public disquiet about issues that the Coalition refuses to address, presumably because it does not find them to be so important. For example, the disastrous state of the economy, and the arrival of the double-dip recession that some of us had long feared inevitable.
Here is a problem that voters would love the Government to address. It is one that is keeping well over three million of them out of work (rather than the official figure of 2.7 million, which has been massaged in various ways). 
The recession is handicapping manufacturers and service providers, and deterring entrepreneurs. Outside central London, it is driving down property prices. It is depressing tax revenues. The threat of unemployment is also causing millions more to fear for their own financial security. It is, in short, a calamity.
The reaction of David Cameron and George Osborne to Wednesday’s announcement that Britain had fallen into a double-dip recession was to bury their heads in the sand. Perhaps backbench Tory MP Nadine Dorries — a proper tribune of the people — had a point when she berated ‘posh boys’ in power for not understanding how the other 99 per cent live.
However, I fear the reason for the failure of Messrs Cameron and Osborne to get a proper grip is not because they are posh, but because neither can bear to lose face by admitting his serious errors.
Read more:
Of course extreme right-wingers such as Heffer will always seek to blame the leadership when Tory support falls below 30% (rather than blame or question Tory ideology as such), but obviously he makes some very good points - those points that are blatantly obvious to anyone who has eyes to see and a little bit of their brain in working order. He goes on:
If that wasn’t enough to make people feel politics was no longer relevant to them, along came the exposure of Jeremy Hunt’s activities as Culture Secretary in the proposed takeover of BSkyB by the Murdoch empire.
Recent history shows that nothing revolts the public more than proof their elected representatives are behaving improperly. Mr Hunt has, of course, denied any wrongdoing. However, the notion that no wrong was done was exploded on Wednesday, when Mr Hunt’s special adviser resigned, admitting he was ‘too close’ to the Murdoch empire. 
What inspired him to get too close? Could it have been that he thought Mr Hunt wanted it? And if Mr Hunt wanted it, why did he? Could it have been because he thought Mr Cameron wanted it?
So, from the point of view of the public, we have a Government not only adamantly in denial about the gravest problems facing the British people, but also up to its neck in cronyism, impropriety and downright sleaze.

So - our extreme right-wingers such as Heffer can see all of this, our extreme left-wingers can see it, and so can the vast majority of us in the middle. This government is in deep excrement.

As for Cameron refusing to investigate what Hunt and his pals were up to, it's pretty obvious that he's terrified of anyone examining too closely Hunt's text messages and emails because some of them will have been copied to Cameron to keep him in touch with what he was doing, and therefore making him an active participant in the conspiracy to hand complete control of BSkyB to Murdoch.

It seems to me Cameron will continue to stall on this issue until Thursday's local elections are out of the way - at the very least. This week of all weeks he can't afford to have any more shit hit the fan, which it will do if either Hunt resigns or if he has to sack Hunt.

This lunchtime the unelected Baroness Warsi was again on Radio 4 news to tell us that the people of this country don't care about the Hunt affair. How come this person is usually the one the Tories put forward to do their bullshitting and dissembling? Is it because she speaks with a slight Northern accent, and is less likely to say something downright idiotic than Cameron's actual MPs? How come she spouts such patronising rubbish - telling us what we do and don't care about?** Of course she's spoken with 'ordinary' people who don't care about the Hunt affair, and who probably aren't even aware of it - but we can all go out and find a few dipsticks to say what we might want to hear. This doesn't mean they're in the majority, or are even 'representative'. The Baroness ought to be aware that more than 70% of us are now fully aware of what the Tories are doing (and not doing) and we don't like what we see and hear.

* "On March 6, 2012, Nadine Dorries MP attacked the leadership of the Coalition over their taxation policies. Referring to the proposed cuts in child benefit, she told the Financial Times "The problem is that policy is being run by two public schoolboys who don't know what it's like to go to the supermarket and have to put things back on the shelves because they can't afford it for their children's lunchboxes. What's worse, they don't care, either". She again criticised Cameron, and also George Osborne, in similar terms on 23 April, calling them "two arrogant posh boys who don't know the price of milk - who show no remorse, no contrition and no passion to want to understand the lives of others"." - Wikipedia

** These are the actual words of Warsi today:
"If you go out and speak to ordinary people, this is not what they are obsessing about. When people look in Westminster Village and see us obsessing about these kinds of issues, and see us playing party politics, using systems and processes to score points against each other in this way, they say 'a plague on all their houses'. What people care about is their schools, their future, and that is what they want us to be talking about."

Speaker Bercow has agreed to summon Cameron to the Commons this afternoon to answer "urgent questions". He's due to appear live on the Parliament Channel sometime after 3.00pm. The following is taken from the Guardian's 'politics live' blog today:
1.23pm: Ed Miliband should get hold of a read-out from the Number 10 lobby briefing before he asks his UQ on Jeremy Hunt. The exchanges illustrated some of the questions which David Cameron could find it hard to answer. Here are more details.
Will Cameron definitely order an inquiry into allegations that Jeremy Hunt broke the ministerial code? Cameron has said that he wants Hunt to be allowed to give evidence to the Leveson inquiry and his spokesman repeated this line this morning. "We should let the process run its course, let the inquiry establish the facts," the spokesman said. But Leveson has said that it is not his job to investigate breaches of the ministerial code, and the prime minister's spokesman was unwilling to say categorically that Cameron would refer this matter to his independent adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Alex Allan, if Leveson did not address it. All he would say was: "The prime minister has been very clear that he would not duck his responsibilities on the ministerial code." That's a hint that Cameron will order an investigation in due course, but not a confirmation. Cameron may have to firm that up this afternoon.
Why does Cameron think Hunt has not breached the ministerial code when people like Lord Butler think he did? Asked about the remarks from Butler the spokesman just said that Cameron "has said that he has seen no evidence that the code has been broken".
Has Cameron asked Hunt directly what he knew about what his special adviser, Adam Smith, was saying to News Corporation about the BSkyB takeover? Asked about this, the spokesman said that this would be covered by the evidence given to Leveson. He also said that Leveson has given a ruling asking people not to disclose their evidence before it is heard by the inquiry.
Why did Hunt tell MPs that he had published all details of his department's exchanges with News Corporation when he hadn't? In March last year Hunt told MPs: "We are publishing all the documents relating to all the meetings – all the consultation documents, all the submissions we received, all the exchanges between my department and News Corporation." But he did not release details of the exchanges between his special adviser and the News Corporation lobbyist, Fred Michel. This information only emerged in a 163-page dossier released by the Leveson inquiry last week. Asked about this, the prime minister's spokesman said that Hunt addressed this point in his statement last week. When journalists said that Hunt did not actually answer this question last week, the spokesman replied: "I have nothing further to add to what the secretary of state said."
Why did Hunt tell the Commons that he always accepted the advice of independent regulators when he did not follow Ofcom's advice and refer the BSkyB bid to the Competition Commission? Asked about this, the spokesman insisted that Hunt said he was minded to refer the bid to the Competition Commission. (David Leigh went into this in more detail in a Guardian article last week.)
Will Cameron reveal all his text messages and emails with Rebekah Brooks? Do the text messages still exist? And, if they are disclosed, will they be redacted? All the spokesman would say on this was that Cameron would provide the Leveson inquiry with "whatever he is asked to provide".
What contact have government officials had with Lord Justice Leveson about his inquiry? Last week it was revealed that Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, spoke to Leveson about the Hunt affair. Today the prime minister's spokesman said: "I am sure that there have been contacts between senior officials and the Leveson team." Some journalists found this potentially suspicious, particularly when the spokesman declined to elaborate what those contacts were, but the spokesman said contacts of this kind were to be expected given the fact that several ministers are giving evidence to Leveson. The spokesman also insisted that the inquiry was "entirely independent".

1.19pm: Here's what Ed Miliband said this morning about the Jeremy Hunt affair. He was he was asking an urgent question about it because it "goes to the character of the government".

"People need to know, particularly in these times, that they have a Government that stands up for them, not the rich and powerful. People need to know that there is the utmost probity and integrity in the way that government is run. I am afraid the events of the last week suggest that something other than that has been going on.
It is a pattern with this prime minister, particularly around News International. He resists the calls for change. He resists the calls to do the right thing. Exactly as he did in phone hacking last summer, exactly as he did with Rebekah Brooks, exactly as he did with Andy Coulson. He is doing the same now when everyone can see that the obvious thing for him to do is make this referral to Alex Allan. That is what he should get on and do rather than seeking to use Jeremy Hunt as a firewall."

Here's a piece on Harriet Harman's concerns:,2012-04-25

Here's the Independent's view:

Friday, April 27, 2012

Layer 533 . . . It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Raging (Again)

Who knows where the time goes? It's not as though anything much has been happening in the world of late. The government's ratings have plummeted in opinion polls - not least because they produced a ridiculous budget that made no sense either politically or economically. The economy is officially back in recession, if not depression. Aren't we all?

This week's headlines have all concerned the Murdoch empire and its relationship with the government. I've been pretty much glued to the televised proceedings of the Leveson Enquiry, and its examination of James Murdoch (Tuesday) and Rupert Murdoch (Wednesday and Thursday). What a pair of bastards. Finally banged to rights! Along with the ridiculous 'Culture Secretary', and his 'Special Adviser'. Stupid Hunt. Jeremy! As Jeremy Hardy said on The News Quiz this evening - Jeremies are invariably knobends.

This morning the wonderful and intrepid Nick Davies had a story on the front page of the Guardian:
Will Rupert Murdoch's reputation survive Leveson's verdict?
Man who made millions out of paying people to ask difficult questions finally faced questioners he could not cope with
Rupert Murdoch is in trouble. In two days as a witness at the Leveson inquiry he has blocked and blasted, smeared and smiled, and, at the end of it, this most powerful of men still has his ankle caught in the snare of scandal. He is vulnerable.
This is a man who is used to getting his way. He is not used to being confronted by people who have the power, the skill and the simple effrontery to challenge him – and to keep on challenging him. On Wednesday morning, he walked in with all the protection that his advisers could give him in the previous days of detailed briefings and endless rehearsals. By Thursday morning, there were times when he had lost the script, lost the plot and he simply sat there, with nobody to help him and no way out.
Excellent. Nick finishes his article, which should be read in full, with the following:
The great underlying question – whose answer will settle finally the reputation of Rupert Murdoch and perhaps the future of his business – is whether those denials are to be believed. It is Lord Justice Leveson and not Murdoch who will deliver the verdict. Even the head of News Corporation sometimes must have to stand naked.
I love Nick's allusion to Bob Dylan's "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)", and its relevance to this entire sleazy tale of Murdochs, Camerons, Tories, Blairs, New Labour, and assorted hangers-on:
While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked.
The wonderful Steve Bell was also thinking 'Emperor's New Clothes' with his cartoon in the Guardian today:

Take another look at the words of Dylan - which are as relevant, perceptive and evocative today as they were nearly 50 years ago when they were first written:
Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying
As some warn victory, some downfall
Private reasons great or small
Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
To make all that should be killed to crawl
While others say don’t hate nothing at all
Except hatred
Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Make everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much is really sacred
Absolutely nothing is sacred to the Murdochs and their businesses. The collaboration between Jeremy Hunt and his team and the Murdochs and their team in the BSkyB takeover affair stinks to high heaven, and it's only thanks to Nick Davies and the Guardian that the shit hit the fan and the deal didn't go through. Which is partly where we are today. The other part, of course, is the telephone hacking, the hasty closure of the News of the Screws, the resignations of corrupt coppers, and so on. Big Daddy Rupe has now gone nuclear and started lashing out at everything and everyone - claiming that yes indeed there was a cover-up over the phone hacking, but they also covered it up from me and my naive dipstick twat of a son.Or words to that effect.

The question is - are we going to be able to prove that Cameron was also actively colluding with the Murdochs at their various parties and meetings? And - is this the deal that was struck with Murdoch in order to get him to switch the support of his papers to the Tories at the last election? What IS bleeding obvious is that Cameron had no problem with News Corp getting full control of BSkyB - by whatever means necessary. And it doesn't take a genius to know that Rupe (and his newspapers and TV channels) would have felt very well disposed towards Cameron and his government if that had occured. As Rupe said to Leveson - everyone scratches everyone else's back. At least that's what they do on Planet Murdoch. But please don't call it bribery!

Then again, as Leveson said to Merdeoch - who says he always behaves ethically (har har) - surely it's the head of any organisation (such as News International) who sets the ethos and the ethics of that organisation? And the reason the Screws was shut down was because it behaved completely and utterly without regard to ethics.

What we all need to ask ourselves is to what degree WE would have been passive bystanders if this outrageous BSkyB takeover had been driven through?
You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks they really found you
A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit
To satisfy, insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not forget
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to
Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to
For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Cultivate their flowers to be
Nothing more than something they invest in
While some on principles baptized
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God bless him
And by the way - take a look at these other reports on the Murdochs in the Guardian:
While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in
But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him
Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony
While them that defend what they cannot see
With a killer’s pride, security
It blows the minds most bitterly
For them that think death’s honesty
Won’t fall upon them naturally
Life sometimes must get lonely
Ed Miliband, incidentally, has had a good week, and Polly Toybee, inevitably, has written superbly this week:
Murdoch and the Cameron entourage: a shameful tale laid out for all to see
If you think this is a navel-gazing media story, here's a reminder of what the Tories were about to unleash on the country
Could this scandal bring down the government? That's not entirely fanciful. But even if not, their every step will be hobbled through to the next election, stifling any high-flown protestations of political virtue. Bang to rights, in Andy Coulson, David Cameron imported into the heart of his operation an agent still in the pay of a powerful political and commercial manipulator. The cascade of revelations of the intimacy between the Cameron entourage and the Murdoch empire saps the government's authority. That's the "shadow of sleaze".
Cover-ups unravelling is what sees heads rolling. The picture emerges of a party deciding long before coming to power to gift Rupert Murdoch a media and cultural dominance beyond anything seen yet. So much is known already: Cameron made a hasty speech threatening Ofcom with the chop. Jeremy Hunt rejected Ofcom's advice to refer the BSkyB bid to the Competition Commission. Cameron was completing what Margaret Thatcher began – and all for what? Fickle support from Murdoch's press.

None of this is news to our readers – but the Leveson inquiry evidence so forensically laid out by Robert Jay QC sets out the shameful tale for all to see. Murdoch's replies will enter the annals of amnesia and economy with the truth: "I've never asked a prime minister for anything in my life." Of course not. He just breathed on them.
Is there anything so exceptional about Rupert Murdoch? He's canny and fly, but probably no more so than many sharp-witted businessmen who spot their chance in a flabby market. All he has done is exactly what Adam Smith (the real one) famously said every businessman does given half a chance – corner markets and conspire against the consumer. The success of his business was built on gaining the edge by evading regulators and avoiding taxes, as all companies will unless stopped. So let's not obsess over his character.
If you think this is a navel-gazing media story, here's a reminder of what Hunt was about to unleash on the country, with Cameron and George Osborne's approval. If Murdoch were allowed to own all BSkyB, within a year or two he would package all his newspapers on subscription or online together with his movie and sports channels in offers consumers could hardly refuse, at loss-leading prices. Other news providers, including this one, would be driven out, or reduced to a husk. His would be the commanding news voice. Except for the BBC – which his media have attacked relentlessly for years.
Jeremy Hunt was within days of giving Murdoch everything, because the government wished it. A token gesture would have put Sky News behind Chinese walls, but on all previous precedent, soon his newspapers, print, online and TV would have merged into a single newsroom. That would require repeal of the law imposing impartiality on broadcasters. But already Murdoch's friends were softening up opinion against old-fashioned, dull TV news, unsuited to the rowdy, opinionated internet era: Fox News would soon be here. If the arrival of Murdoch's kick-arse Sun was a shock, we'd look back on it as an age of innocence compared with what Fox would do – look what it's done to US politics.
Cameron has said it is his ambition to finish Margaret Thatcher's work. As she privatised nationalised industries, so he would marketise the public sector, with his NHS commercialisation and his promise to put all public services out to tender. The dismantling or shrivelling of the BBC would soon have followed. If Nick Davies had not exposed the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone in the nick of time, all would have been lost – an odd way for the BBC to be reprieved.
The 81-year-old under scrutiny this week rambled a bit and remembered nothing to his own detriment. He was an unsatisfying villain, as most are. But the villainy here is not about one man. He stands as an Adam Smith lesson in the primacy of competition law and what happens when politicians let the free market rip in order to do political favours.