Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Fortnum Fiasco

As predicted in my 4th April post "Lack of police intelligence", all charges against the Fortnum & Mason protestors were dropped : http://bit.ly/oiuNft

What is it with the Metropolitan Police? No wonder they're so keen to have the media on their side.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Will Labour tribalism waste the once-in-a-generation opportunity?

How disappointing. For the first time in a generation the nation has a window of opportunity to break up the incestuous relationship between Government, Met Police and Murdoch media in which the Murdoch press has abused and dominated the political process and intimidated politicians in the name of its imaginary great British readership. (To say nothing of the Royal Family - and I'm no royalist). An abusive relationship in which politicians have felt they had little choice but to humour them and do what they can to limit the damage; maybe even (in the run-up to an election) get their approval. Rebekah Brooks is no doubt very charming, but even she, surely, didn't think she'd have got the invitations to all those dinner parties unless her hosts felt they had little choice but to invite her.

And now the Labour Party, sensing party political advantage, is on the point of throwing it all away.

I would be surprised if there is a single MP in the House who wouldn't be delighted to see Murdoch tamed, and his grubby hands got out of their knickers. Yet on Newsnight tonight, Murdoch was forgotten. The spotlight is of course on the Met - quite rightly, as my previous post predicted - and is starting to swing round on to the politicians. And as it does so, the squabbling and tribal name-calling starts to break out.

The sight of Harriet Harman desperately trying to extract short-term party political advantage from it is pretty pathetic. I understand that Opposition has a job to do, but this isn't the Opposition we need just now. This is a time for a bit of statesmanship from all parties.

Besides, the idea that this incestuous culture is the responsibility of David Cameron is laughable - although of course he's up to his neck in it, as they nearly all are. He couldn't have got to be Prime Minister if he weren't. Thatcher, Major, Blair (especially Blair, and his minder Campbell) and Brown were all responsible for the collective political failure to cage the beast. And the great British public is responsible too, for continuing to buy Murdoch's papers. (Why is it that really good journalism just doesn't seem to sell? I write as someone who has never 'done Murdoch' - fortunately I'm completely uninterested in televised sport.)

Harman kept squeaking about how awful it was that Millie Dowler's phone got hacked, seemingly forgetting that it happened on her watch. It was Tony Blair that sidelined the Labour Party membership - first he consulted focus groups, and then tried to buy the public's affection directly through media manipulation. Riding the tiger.

Which reminds me of a poem we used to read with our children when they were young :

Algy met a bear.
The bear met Algy.
The bear was bulgy.
The bulge was Algy.

I really hope that the Labour Party doesn't squander the opportunity that MPs collectively now have to put Parliament back in control. It may be pretty inadequate as a democratic institution, but God knows it's better than the Murdoch press. And of course it's not just the Murdoch press. The heart sinks at the prospect of the Daily Mail and Daily Express picking up the dropped baton.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


for those with long memories, one's tempted (on hearing that Murdoch's withdrawn his B Sky B bid) to say "GOTCHA!"

Friday, 8 July 2011

Murdoch's only doing what comes naturally - it's our politicians that have failed.

There is no such thing as 'business ethics'. The essence of business is making money : that's all business is. We shouldn't complain too much if a business like News Corporation scours the gutters, abuses human rights and bribes policemen to beat its rivals in the marketplace. Like a cat with a bird, it's only doing what comes naturally. We're dealing here, not with human beings, but with what the Apostle Paul called the 'principalities and powers' (Ephesians 6:12) :

"We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world." (The 'rulers of darkness' are not humans like Rupert Murdoch; these are 'spiritual' forces, beyond any single human.)

Any ethics in business has to be supplied by human beings. Yes, we can hope that the human beings employed in the business have ethical standards and apply them. Realistically, though, that isn't going to happen unless ethical behaviour is rewarded. It has to be rewarded from within - the people at the top must define the ethical position. In News International that clearly doesn't happen and hasn't happened for a long time. Rebekah Brooks is absolutely implicated. Murdoch's (and her) ethics are 'do what is necessary to make money'. He and his underlings don't need to instruct junior journalists to hack voicemails. They don't even need to know they're doing it. As long as those journalists could be confident that they would be commended for anything that steals a march on rival newspapers, some of them were bound to do it - like the soldiers that torture prisoners because there is a top-down culture of impunity. Or like the famous assassins of Thomas à Becket, who overheard the king wishing his Archbishop dead, and murdered him on his own altar steps. The king - according to the story at least - had himself whipped through the streets of London as a public penance. I can't wait . . .

Of course, every purchaser of the Sun and the News of the World has also rewarded Murdoch's empire with their custom. The 'customer is always right' in business. As long as someone is prepared to buy gutter journalism, gutter journalism will exist. But it's not realistic to hope the market for gutter journalism will dry up, any more than it is realistic to hope that people like Coulson, Brooks and Murdoch suddenly see the light.

So if it's too much to hope that media moguls in a competitive world will behave ethically, because it's too much to hope that their market will dry up, who will supply the ethics?

Isn't that what we have politicians and judiciary for? In fact, isn't that almost their sole function?

What we have had for the past thirty years is a political culture of hand-washing and avoidance of responsibility.

The old Tory ideology is "You can't expect the common people to know how to run a country. The best people to do that are those who already know how to run a country estate, keep the peasants employed and all that." In the 80s that culture changed and went downmarket. Now it was big businessmen who were likely to be the best at running things (except, of course, they did that so well they shifted most of our manufacturing industry to the Far East because it was more profitable). That meant the only real big businessmen left in the country were the financiers. And how the Blair government feted them! Now of course we know that the financiers weren't terribly interested in running the country either - much more interested of getting as much of their tax liability offshore as they could.

In this whole sorry mess, then, the real culpability lies with our political leaders for failing to govern - for failing to do the job we put them there to do. For failing to supply the ethics to a fundamentally unethical world of business and finance - in fact, for doing the exact opposite and transferring responsibility for governance on to them. And alongside them - and this is a tawdry story yet to fully emerge - stand the police. It seems pretty clear that investigations into phone hacking were blocked at a very senior level in the Met. And unless it was just one rogue policeman passing on phone numbers (like it was 'just one rogue journalist' Mulcaire) I expect to see heads roll at top level in the Met - a police force that's shown itself stunningly short of ethics in recent years and tried to spit out the only Commissioner who showed signs of having any.

400 years ago, bloody civil war fuelled by religious bigotry led to a separation of the power of the Church (the Rupert Murdoch of its day) from politics. Well, theoretically. Now it is time for an enforced separation of powers between politics and big business and finance. Rebekah Brooks shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the gates of Downing Street - or Cameron's dining table. All MPs - or if not that, at least Cabinet members - should automatically be required to resign from their business interests.

And David Cameron, rather than Rebekah Brooks, should be the one 'considering his position'. We need a clean sweep and a culture change at the heart of British politics.