HACKGATE DAY 192: Is Piers Morgan the new Andy Coulson?

Piers shows off his brain following its removal by US surgeons last year

….and George Osborne the new David Cameron?

Before  putting this news before you, I have to declare an interest. I don’t like Piers Morgan. I am an entirely Piersist Morganophobe. There are umpteen reasons for this, but they’re not relevant. Suffice to say that after we had a bit of an email tiff (Twitter was still an egg back then) I found myself in the West Indies, and a nearby restaurant was called Morgan’s Pier. So I took a shot of it and texted the dear boy, with the message ‘Difficult anagram of your name, Piers.’ The next day, I was idling about between those short, sharp showers you get in the Windies in January, and I realised that a better anagram of Morgan’s name was Romping Arse. So I sent it to Richard Eyre (at that time a TV Big Cheese) and he sent it on to the world and its mother. Piers isn’t good at laughing at himself.

Since then, of course, the Arse has become a star of the small screen, with a nightly chat show on CNN. But two months ago I ran a gossip piece about talentless Brits in America being anxious about phone-hacking contagion.

Earlier this week, The Slog reported on Louise Mensch’s flagrant use of Parliamentary privilege to call the Romper a hacker – and how Piers dragged her onto his show, thereafter challenging her to repeat the allegation. This is what Moron said at the time in refuting her claim:

“For the record, in my time at The Mirror and the News of the World, I have never hacked a phone, told anybody to hack a phone, or published any story based on the hacking of a phone”.

Unfortunately, his former colleague at the Mirror James Hipwell thinks this denial has a whiff of Andy Coulson about it. This morning in The Independent, Hipwell alleges:

“”Piers was extremely hands-on as an editor. He was on the newsroom floor every day, walking up and down behind journalists, looking over their shoulders. I can’t say 100% that he knew about it. But it was inconceivable he didn’t.”

Note the careful legalese there: ‘it’s not quite 100% inconceivable’ is quite a neat way of saying that Morgan’s rebuttal is complete bollocks.

We mustn’t forget that James himself is not of the driven snow: Hipwell was fired from the Mirror in 2000 after tipping shares and then buying them – also a neat idea, but 100% illegal. He got banged up for 60 days for this, but what he’s alleging now makes sense: he became aware of the hacking because the paper’s City desk, on which he worked, was next to the showbiz desk.

“It was seen as a bit of a wheeze, slightly underhand but something many of them did – what a laugh. After they’d hacked into someone’s mobile they’d delete the message so another paper couldn’t get the story. It was endemic. Sean [Hoare] didn’t suddenly move from one tabloid where it didn’t happen to another where it did….”

For me, this is the key point. Hacking was a trick journalists learned about from other journalists. When working for Newscorp at the News of the World, Morgan’s assistant was Rebekah (then) Wade. Hoare I suspect first learned the trick when working for The People. Tom Baldwin was blagging bank accounts at the Sunday Times. Perhaps he taught some tricks of the trade to Holly Watt, now of the Telegraph; perhaps he didn’t. Perhaps Tom Baldwin too walked around the Wapping offices for years wearing an eye-mask and earplugs.

In a GQ interview during 2007, the Romping One told the magazine, “Loads of newspaper journalists were doing it. Clive Goodman, the News of the World reporter, has been made the scapegoat for a widespread practice.” So for him to suggest now that, during a career spanning three tabloids, he never once saw, knew about or (even unknowingly) used stories based on phone-hacking is, well, almost 100% inconceivable.

Footnote: During the Hipwell directionalising scandal, Morgan was found to have spent £67,000 on shares tipped by the column. He insisted this was coincidental, and was not charged.


Meanwhile, in the corridors of Conservative and Sir Humphrey power, The Slog can confirm that there have been a few chats about what to do when Dave finally accepts that resignation is inevitable. Figuring extensively in these discussions is our Chancellor, the man for whom Europe doesn’t exist, George ‘Draper’ Osborne. Although this ambitious man would just love to be the new David Cameron, he may be about to earn that soubriquet for all the wrong reasons.

The Telegraph reveals this morning that on December 16th last year, he flew to New York for five days with his family – at NYC’s expense, naturally. Pay, moi? Good Lord sir, I’m the Chancellor don’t you know. While there he had a private dinner with Rupert Murdoch and a couple of other hoods. Nothing wrong with that: but this was at a very sensitive time – and it was followed almost immediately by the fall of Vince Cable, which in turn was followed in short order by the Prime Minister enjoying Christmas festivities with most of the Wapping Liars. Although asked 7,901 times in the Commons last Wednesday whether he’d discussed BSkyB with the Wappers during the break, Cameron answered another question nobody had asked him instead. It is probably 125% inconceivable  that he used these evasive tactics in order to be more truthful.

The Treasury insists that the Draper/Digger conversations never once touched upon the BSkyB deal, an assertion that must be based entirely on the word of Osborne, because he was there and his civil servants weren’t. This may be entirely truthful, but here too the key point is a simple one: why meet a media mogul at all (at such a sensitive time) when the purpose of your trip was to have discussions about fiscal crises with New York bankers?

I note that last Wednesday there was much protesting in the House about the incestuous menage a trois currently operating between the Met Police, Newscorp and the political class. I remember very well the same chorusing ‘hear hears’ at the time of the expenses scandal. A year on, nothing has changed.

At Westminster and in Whitehall, plus will rest la meme chose forever unless MPs are paid a lot more, and all forms of lobbying the legislature are banned. I know this sounds galling and draconian, but until the culture of behaviour in public and professional life changes, it is the only answer. The situation we have now is a small Executive (the Cabinet) serving up unaccountable confusion, and beneath them over 600 largely neutered MPs with too much time on their hands in which to consider alcohol, horizontal jogging, lunch, and backhanders. A far better alternative would be more accountable, more devolved  power, where monetary gain or private interests are never part of the equation of debate and decision.

When the right-wing Daily Telegraph skewered MPs for fiddling their expenses, Lord Fondlebum of  Boy was quick to call this “a political attack engineered by the Telegraph and their friends in the Conservative Party”. Now that the leftish Guardian and liberalish Independent have caught the Government in a favours-for-support scandal, the Right in turn insists that it’s all a BBC Commie plot to do away with anti-Socialist comment. Not only is this utter balderdash, it doesn’t bear examination: as those of us begging the Beeb to take notice of Hackgate leads and stories earlier this year can attest, Auntie was stark-staring terrified of running stuff that might look like anti-Murdoch bias for commercial gain.

Every newspaper from the Times to the Star has an agenda. The Slog doesn’t, beyond that set out in the About section on the homepage. The big difference between this site and the mainstream press is that my agenda is socio-constitutional and cultural, not political. I’m interested only in the truth about corrupt favouritism – be it feminist quotas or Cameronian legs-up – and who it does or doesn’t offend, help, destroy or irritate in that process is of no moment to me at all.