Rupert Murdoch’s News International group has long been the bane of the left.
The Sun and News of the World (NoTW) have routinely attacked trade unions, demonised the left and championed Thatcher and then New Labour. There is great pleasure to be had, therefore, in seeing it struggle to kill off the poisonous scandal which has developed around phone-hacking at the NoTW.
It started in 2005, when the Royal Family began to suspect that salacious stories about them could only have been the result of phone hacking. An investigation led to the conviction of the paper’s royal reporter (Clive Goodman) and a private investigator (Glenn Mulcaire). The NoTW bosses hoped that this would put an end to the story and so did the Metropolitan Police. The Met conducted a cursory investigation, sought no evidence of wider phone-hacking and essentially helped the paper bury the story.
Then others became convinced that they too had been the victim of hacking and pursued their own complaints. Fearful of critical damage, at least two complainants, Professional Football Association leader Gordon Taylor and PR adviser Max Clifford, were offered huge payouts by News International to get them to settle without a trial.
A trial would have meant the exposure of documents and records showing just how many journalists were involved. The payments were again attempts to be done with the scandal before the true scale of the operation could be exposed.
But that didn’t work. The cover-up unravelled as more victims have uncovered evidence, more journalists have been sacked and the Met Police have been dragged into the scandal.
There is a temptation to treat the substance of all this as a sideshow — rich celebrities fighting a right-wing scandal sheet — amusing but nothing to do with us. We should resist that.
This is fast turning into Britain’s equivalent of the infamous Dreyfus case in France in the way it is exposing the corruption of an overconfident, unaccountable ruling class.
Earlier this month, after years of denying any knowledge of the criminal behaviour of his journalists, former NoTW editor Andy Coulson finally resigned chief political adviser to Tory leader David Cameron.
The Met police are being asked to explain why they failed to investigate the original allegations properly and failed to tell the people whose names appeared in Goodman and Mulcaire’s records that they had been hacked.
The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) twice carried out enquiries which concluded that there was no evidence of further misconduct or attempts to mislead it.
At every level of the British state there appears to have been a conspiracy to cover up the criminality of the News of the World. Even the paper’s media rivals have shown no interest in investigating and exploiting the story — well, they have all been doing it for years!
What the phone-hacking scandal shows beyond doubt is the extent to which the various components of Britain’s ruling class are interwoven with each other, with mutual interests and personnel, all of which they will fight to protect. News International has been able to get away with persistent law-breaking for years because the forces supposed to hold them accountable are actually on their side whether that be the police, the PCC or the government.
That will become even clearer when Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt eventually — and inevitably — approves Murdoch’s bid to buy up the 61% of BSkyB that he does not already own.
If these forces will conspire together to help the tabloids keep us fed with salacious stories about footballers, soap stars and actors, we can only imagine the ruthlessness with which they would try to undermine any workers’ movement to resist the cuts and challenge their power. That’s not the paranoia the left are often accused of. It is simply knowing your enemy.