Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A debate to inspire public confidence?

There are landmark occasions in every Parliament. I remember writing about the Holyrood debate on the release of Megrahi a couple of years ago that there are times when you really want your parliamentarians to step up to the plate and show how good they can be. Given the worrying allegations over the last few weeks, which go way beyond the hacking of anybody's phone, we needed MPs to show that they understood the dangers of the murky inter-relationships between politicians, the police and the media.  We don't really need to hear any more of the details used as ammunition in a pathetic attempt to be slightly less bad than the people on the opposite benches. The two biggest parties in there have an equal amount of form for sucking up to Murdoch.

Let's be clear. If there are points on offer, the only people who deserve them are the Liberal Democrats. We generally do understand the issues involved and  have shown that by words and actions consistently for decades. Our leaders haven't been sucking up to Murdoch and his cohorts and we have been calling for changes in regulation and scrutiny for years. Again, as on the economy and MPs' expenses to name two issues, we have been shown to not only have been right but acted right as well. Vince Cable has been talking to the Evening Standard about the furore over his comments last year, taped by the Telegraph, about declaring war on Murdoch.

There's been some unseemly behaviour in the Commons today. It's just as well that the debate is about public confidence in the police and media, and not politicians. One of the worst occasions was the barracking of Jo Swinson for asking a perfectly reasonable question of the Prime Minister:
In the light of Mrs Brooks’ revelations about quite how cosy and close the relationship was between News International and Tony Blair, and Murdoch’s secret back-door meetings at No. 10 under both the last and present Governments, does the Prime Minister agree that this explains why successive Governments have been so reluctant to act in response to the 2003 Culture, Media and Sport Committee recommendations, the 2006 Information Commissioner report, and calls last year from Lib Dem MPs for a judicial inquiry into phone hacking? [ Interruption.
How many times have we seen John Bercow rush to shout at MPs who behave badly? Every PMQs, he's out there telling people off.  But what did he do when Jo was being shouted down today? Not a thing. To give Cameron credit, he had a go at the hecklers:
 People should not shout the hon. Lady down, because she is making a very fair point, and frankly, it is a point that does not reflect very well on either Conservative or Labour, which is that there were a lot of warnings about what was going wrong—warnings from the Information Commissioner, warnings from the Select Committee—but we did not put high enough up the agenda the issue of regulating the media. We should not be pointing fingers about this; we should be recognising that we need to work on this to get it right, to respond to those reports and actually put some of their proposals into the law.
David Cameron took a lot of flak today over Andy Coulson, and rightly so. But, to be honest, he just should never ever have employed the man. It didn't matter who tried to tell him what after the event. It was just wrong for the leader of the Opposition to employ anyone who had been at the head of a paper where criminal practices had been going on under his oblivious little nose.

What worries me is that Tory and Labour politicians might hope that today's debate will be the end of the matter and it'll all die down over the Summer. Actually, this hasn't started yet. Lord Leveson's enquiry, judge rather than Downing Street cat led because of the intervention of Nick Clegg has serious issues to consider and it will come out with recommendations for change. That, however, is going to take a long time. Challenging the way power is exercised in this country, and the inter-relationships between the powerful needs a cultural change that I don't think the establishment is quite ready for. That process need not wait for enquiries to report before it can begin.

The phone hacking is relatively new but questionable conduct by a minority of journalists is not. Murdoch is not the first newspaper owner to hold senior politicians of both major parties in his thrall. News International may have broken the camel's back, but politicians and proprietors have been too cosy for decades.

If we are going to see change, though, the public needs to not only understand the sort of tactics used by journalists in their quest for information and sales and the inter-relationships between the power elites in the country but to demand meaningful change.

I am being evicted from the laptop now, and I recognise that this is only half a post, but this is a theme I want to return to over the coming months. Watch this space.

3 comments:

Bill Chapman said...

David Cameron has to go. He is simply too close to this sorsdid business. Nick Clegg looks distinctly uneasy. He should be pointing out the inevitable to David Cameron.

Caron said...

I don't think Cameron has to go, even with his failure to deny conversations about BSkyB with his former friends at News International.

He hasn't done anything that the previous lot haven't done.

The debate on what happens in the future needs to engage as many people as possible - we need to work out the best way forward.

Richard Morris said...

Great post Caron. The HoC treatment of all the female MPs today was shocking - they seemed to target them.

I'm less optimistic than you about change tho - here's my post http://aviewfromhamcommon.blogspot.com/2011/07/if-voting-changed-anything-theyd.html

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