The BSkyB takeover: will Miliband NOW ask a PMQ?


News International CEO Rebekah Brooks (Wade)

As the scope of the News International hacking scandal continues to leak, MPs from all Parties were asking last night why the Labour leader Ed Miliband isn’t going for the Conservative jugular. Is this a case of glass houses and stones?

The Slog can reveal that growing evidence of David Cameron’s closeness to senior News International executives is evoking great glee in the Left-leaning media – and enormous consternation in the upper echelons of the Tory Party.

On Friday evening, The Slog dropped in a gossipy tidbit towards the end of its post on Coulson: that the hacking contagion has now infected News International CEO Rebekah Brooks. Late last night, the Guardian beat the pack to the explanation as to why: for this very combative lady may well be up to her leather-neck in phone hacking.

The Guardian yarn concerns ageing hack Ray Chapman, and his alcohol-induced inability to remember what other hacks had asked him to do. ‘A friend’ (unnamed) claims that Ray had hundreds of tapes, and everyone in the Murdoch group is hunting for them. (Note the tense ‘had’, not ‘has’).

The problem with the ‘story’ is that it is without any verification on or off the record. It would be ironic to say the least if Chapman had handed them to Wikileaks, but there is no evidence for this either. But I understand that the tapes do indeed exist…and Ms Brooks has a very explicit role in one or two of them. I’m also told that Ian Edmondson has more or less turned Queen’s evidence on the matter – a good scoop for Guido Fawkes this one.

Throughout yesterday – on both Sky and in The Times – the game plan was painfully clear, and obviously being dictated from the top: play down the wider significance of Coulson’s departure…and diffuse the focus by accusing other papers of having been up to precisely the same thing. This is a continuation of Murdoch’s longer-term strategy: to stick unwaveringly to the One Rogue Hacker line – and when that failed, make pay-offs to any litigants. Already, the second string in that bow has cost Newscorp £2.7 million. Silence, it seems, really is golden.

But the silence has been broken. And the Luvvie Plot to keep on suing the News of the World remains, so people close to it insist, unchanged.

So why do I keep harping on about Ed Miliband – the silent movie? Very simple: this is an open goal for any Opposition leader – literally on a par with the Profumo scandal in 1963 – and goes to the heart of Cabinet, Downing Street, the Met Police, the security services and the bankrolling of an election by a media mogul under suspicion of a string of serious criminal offences.

Miliband’s tactic seems to be to make the whole case a question of David Cameron’s judgement. In reality, it is a question of the possible involvement of the Prime Minister in a plot to pervert the course of justice.

That’s not a wild blogosmear accusation: the Prime Minister was Rebekah Wade’s guest for part of the Christmas period. This was a brief time after the much-maligned Vince Cable was taken off the case involving Murdoch’s acquisition of the rest of BSkyB. James Murdoch’s avowed intent is to get that merger through – and during the General Election, Cameron was accused of having ‘done a deal’ with Newscorp to make it the dominant force in UK broadcasting at the expense of the hated BBC.

The country’s most powerful politician finds himself embroiled in what looks like a grubby deal (with the help of top security cop Andy Hayman) to get support from a mass media Group – in return for covering up an open and shut case of criminal privacy invasion and abuse of press power.

You’re the Opposition Leader under attack for being a wimp. And you decide to stick with ‘it’s a question of the Prime Minister’s judgement’? It doesn’t make sense without further explanation.

I don’t know the full explanation; like others on the case, I have only gossip. But one comment – “the previous lot were up to their necks in it as well” – might serve as a summation of the general view.

Another perhaps more scurrilous observation involved the historical closeness of Lord Mandleson, newly installed City investment strategist, to the Newscorp camp….and the large amount of money he received for the serialisation of his memoirs in The Sunday Times. But I can’t comment on that at all.

Stay tuned.