18 July 2011

Stop bugging me man - I'll kick your F**%ing teeth in...

Or so said the character Nick Curran (played by Michael Douglas) in the Paul Verhoeven film from 1992, Basic Instinct. Thus bugging or hacking into phones for the purposes of providing journalistic exposes has become one of the most momentous (to paraphrase Hal Berstram) events in the country's recent political history. The rapid collapse and closure of the country's largest selling newspaper, the News of the World in a desperate attempt to forestall further fallout was truly stunning. Indeed it appears that the scandal continues to claim victims, with Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson following News International Senior executive Rebekah Brooks in resigning.

Over at 'Comment is free' they appear, to paraphrase Agent Albert Rosenfield from Twin Peaks:

'to have been snacking for too long on the local mushrooms'

and we see the frenzy in full force. What does it portend for the future of British democracy? A trip through the Guardian's comment pages appears to be reminscent of a trip through one of Star Trek's parallel universes. David Cameron's political obituaries have been written by various ex-Soviet sympathisers and veteran fellow travellers, and opposition Leader 'Miliband E' or 'Mr Ed' (named after a 60's American show involving a talking horse) is suddenly touted as a 'man of courage' for his sudden conversion (after being part of two administrations who shamelessly courted News International for the previous three elections) to greater transparency on media ownership. Prize chameleon Nick Clegg adds to his reputation for principle and veracity by shamelessly exploiting the scandal to try and shore up his collapsing vote. All we need now is something from Chris Huhne and the confusion will be complete.

So, is the Coalition finished and more importantly, is the phone hacking affair the figurative 'end' for Cameron? I think not but would agree that I had reservations about using as tarnished a figure as Andy Coulson in any kind of advisory capacity, especially given that the phone hacking scandal has been running in 'Private Eye' for at least the past eight years. Whilst I wouldn't want to see public policy dictated by Ian Heslop and co (they probably would be less than enthusiastic than I am) even a cursory glance at this journal would have raised (or should have raised) serious question marks about his suitability. Nevertheless, Coulson is no longer in position. The question becomes whether Cameron knew that he was involved in phone hacking when he hired him - at the moment that doesn't seem the case and I do not see how the pro Sino Guardian can have any indication otherwise.

The alleged phone hacking incidents took place during the period between 2004 and 2008, which unless I am very much mistaken, saw a Labour government in power. (and one of the worst ever seen in the country's history, of which 'Mr.Ed' was a key part) Thus the nauseous eruptions from Mr G.Brown esquire, returning to the Commons after a year's sabbatical rank as some of the most hypocritical ever put on the record in Hansard, as in deference to the Guardian's staff some of them have recognised.

Is the scandal damaging to Cameron, and by extension, the coalition? for sure, but a quick read through 'Comment is free' or indeed the BBC website will reveal the real significance of the scandal. Neither the Guardian nor the BBC have ever been enamoured of the greater circulation and currency of the News International publications. This is seen as an ideal opportunity to circumscribe the debate and significantly narrow the range of right wing viewpoints available to people. In a wider context, I'd argue the significance is in fact far greater, potentially in the US, where the New York Times (which I read most days over here)and, by extension the Obama White House, are sharpening the knives for Murdoch's Fox News channel. If, as has been speculated, there was hacking of 9/11 victims, then the consequences could be even more far -reaching than they currently are. However, in a UK context, let us not delude ourselves this is more than an aberration, and not an opportunity to limit political discourse to amicable discussion between acolytes of the Guardian and BBC.

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