Many many thanks to those who applied the term ‘Cantonesque’ to my phonehacking tweet yesterday. This is praise indeed in our household, though in this case undeserved.
To recap, it said ‘Hope MPs don’t confuse wood and trees in phonehacking. Coulson is trees. Wood is media culture. Cops part of the forest.’ Bloody obvious I would say. Not a seagull or trawler in sight.
As some of you told me, ‘cops are part of the copse’ would have been wittier, but wit was not my immediate purpose. That was to point out to Labour MPs that there was a danger that in going all out to get the scalp of Andy Coulson, they lose sight of bigger and more important pictures – namely the nature of the UK media culture; and the role of the police.
To be fair to the MPs, most seemed to get the point when Home Secretary Theresa May addressed the Commons on the issue yesterday. It was not a very convincing performance. She had one line of defence – ministers shouldn’t interfere in operational police matters – and stayed right behind it. As a result a lot of questions went unanswered. And questions unanswered in the Commons have a habit of coming back again and again.
It went big on the news yesterday, but appears to be slipping down the agenda again today. I think we can be fairly sure that if this had been happening on Labour’s watch, the lead story on the broadcast media this morning would have run as follows … ‘The police officer who has agreed to reopen inquiries into the conduct of the Prime Minister’s director of communications during his editorship of the News of the World will face MPs today as the controversy shows no sign of dying down.’
What has been apparent throughout, in the media coverage of this story, is the desire of several newspaper groups for it simply to go away. They should not be surprised, given the zeal with which they chase scandal in other walks of life, that their stance gives rise to people feeling they have a lot to hide from a spotlight is shone too brightly on the way they go about their business.
The other consequence of the Home Secretary’s stone-walling is that a lot of questions for the police remain unanswered too. She tried very hard, with a few backbenchers in support, to portray all this as Labour politicking. But when Labour MP Chris Bryant set out to the House the facts of his case – namely that he had been informed he was the victim of criminal activity but the police intended to do nothing about it – he deserved a better answer than the one she gave.
The government (including Lib Dems who would be leading the queue on this one if they let their principles speak louder than the power they hold) have now joined parts of the press in hoping this one just goes away. But it won’t. And even if Coulson does end up having to fall on his sword, it shouldn’t.