Hacking was dreadful; Labour's opportunism pathetic

The difference between Cameron and Miliband over hacking and cosying up to big media is that Cameron has apologised, while all Ed Miliband sees is another hypocritical opportunity to indulge in his own particular brand of weirdness

New Labour and News International hit it off big time
Steven George-Hilley
On 28 June 2014 14:02

It was on a hot summer afternoon, on July 7th, 2011, when I heard the announcement that the News of the World, a paper which had been in circulation since 1843, was due to close in just three short days.

As the headlines flashed across the flat screen TVs in my office, I was stunned to learn that a paper which courted the eyes of around 7.5 million people in Britain was about to disappear. This was a newspaper that had smashed all previous tabloid sales records, delivered controversy and brilliance with equal measure, and proved that there was life left in print journalism for the foreseeable future.

The News of the World wasn’t simply a triumph in journalism, it had become an essential part of British life. For many of us, taking the traditional Sunday walk to the local corner shop to pick-up a pint of milk and gazing at the paper’s latest salacious scandalous headline in the newspaper rack was a matter of routine.

There can be no denying that the paper went to extraordinary lengths to get the scoop, and frequently set the news agenda for weeks ahead.

The downside to being the biggest selling paper is that you can never let the competition get the better of you. And in an environment when missing one single email or call could cost you the scoop, and by implication your job, the News of the World’s reporters worked in a high pressure environment in which many of us mere mortals would not survive.

As one former employee told me, it was “like hell on Earth and absolutely horrendous,” and yes he had worked under Rebekah Brooks.

It was in this toxic climate of pressure, stress and fear that the phone hacking culture began to emerge as a new and cruel way for journalists to get the scoop.

As we are all now aware, this was the moment that British journalism shifted from the controversial into the criminal, from the gutter press into the sewer. It was illegal and it was wrong, and it was indeed far more widespread than it should have been.

This dark period of journalism brought shame on the industry. From semi-naked images of Max Mosley engaged in what clearly should be private activity splashed across the front pages of the Murdoch newspapers to the revelations that Gordon Brown’s son had Cystic Fibrosis, it was truly stomach churning.

The rights of press freedom and the public interest were being cynically used for gross breaches of privacy, harassment and cruelty. Quite rightly, the Leveson Inquiry ruthlessly interrogated those responsible and provided victims with a platform to reveal how badly they were treated by a feral media best that was operating outside of basic ethics and the law.

This week, we finally saw that the end result was a lengthy criminal investigation and a trial lasting seven months and costing upwards of £100million pounds. From lesbian pornography to passionate affairs, nobody could deny it had been a very colourful and controversial journey.

But with just one conviction for Andy Coulson, with Rebekah Brooks, her husband Charlie and a whole host of other lesser known cast members cleared, the British taxpayer will be wondering why they ended up footing such a huge bill for such a small result.

The lack of criminal convictions also appears to have badly wrong-footed the weird Mr Miliband who struggled to pin the blame on David Cameron during their weekly sparring match at PMQs. Despite the input and expertise from David Axelrod, poor old Ed sounded like a Sixth Form student reading lines from a Joe Orton playbook, instead of a serious interrogator.

Cameron, to his credit, batted each and every allegation back, leaving the leader of the opposition looking muddled and perplexed.

But the British public is not falling for Ed’s dodgy narrative about the Labour party standing up to Murdoch. It is well known that Labour and its former leaders have been in bed with the Murdoch clan for years.

So close was Tony Blair to the Murdoch family that he even allegedly felt the need to sleep over without bothering to tell Rupert, and if that’s not a cosy relationship then I don’t know what is.

Neither the Conservatives nor Labour can seriously separate themselves from the Murdoch Empire as it would be political suicide to stonewall the owners of some of Britain’s biggest national daily newspapers.

But the difference is that whilst David Cameron has apologised for his mistake over Coulson, Ed Miliband has continued with his charade of painting Labour as an innocent party.

From now until polling day, we can expect to see many, many more examples of Ed’s shameless opportunism.

From random policies, pledges and condemnations, no Labour leader has changed with the wind so readily.

Leading a country requires courage, conviction and principles. Look for these in Ed Miliband and you will quickly see why he is not fit to be Prime Minister.

Steven George-Hilley is a director at the Parliament Street think tank and a Conservative Party activist. He is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator

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