It’s goin’ off in London, it’s goin’ off, mate … barely a day after the Commons sub-committee on sport, culture, media, the Falklands, the Cinque ports and Jarndyce versus Jarndyce, had delivered its report on News International, phone hacking and related matters, and therein stated that Rupert Murdoch was an “unfit” person to run anything more than lemonade stand, well, the whole place has collapsed into chaos and acrimony, on partisan lines. The Tories are rushing to the defence of Rupe, Labour is threatening to expose their hopeless fealty to him further, and a delicious side-spat has opened up over whether it is politically legitimate to call odious Tory dimwit Louise Mensch (nee Bagshawe) a “rich whore” or not.

The splits and the spats were inevitable, but until now the committee had been a model of unity, as it attempted to get to the bottom of News International’s systemic corruption of journalistic practice and the Metropolitan police force, and the latter’s willingness to become a paid agency doing Rupe and his henchpeople’s bidding. Though everyone groaned when Tom Watson used a question to accuse the hapless James Murdoch of being a “Mafia boss” — if only; the evidence is James couldn’t be a Brumby’s franchisee, let alone a crime boss — they have generally supported each other on lines of questioning, if for no other reason than that to be seen to be on the side of an organisation that hacks a dead girl’s phone had no dividend. There was also the matter of, y’know, genuine public interest. The degree to which the police force had been rendered internally ineffectual by News’ payments and favours to officers was genuinely shocking, especially if you bought the Olympic-period hysteria about terror, etc, and the non-Murdoch tabloids were hammering hard on that line.

Then the committee’s report was drafted, and here accounts vary. The Tory members of the committee — in particular Mensch — claim that the “unfit” tag was added by Labour members close to the final drafting of the report, as an ambush, that the matter was never discussed by the committee in private session, and that Murdoch R had not been in the frame to answer questions that would establish fitness or otherwise. Labour replied by arguing that the issue had been discussed months before, and by threatening to release a full list of proposed Tory amendments to the final report, that would establish what a pusillanimous bunch they truly are.

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Labour, well Watson, also accused the Tories of leaking interim discussions of evidence to News — crucially, between the first and second appearance of Murdoch, J, thus allowing him to tailor his answers to the committee’s concerns. The stoush between Watson and Mensch occurred mainly on Twitter, with others piling in — notably another Labour MP, Chris Bryant, who asked whether [committee member] Therese Coffey had been receiving private briefings throughout the period of the report. Mensch for her part, tweeted some flatly unbelievable brown-nosing to Murdoch, J:

Well, it’s not just Labour who voted as a bloc. The Lib-Dem members of the committee voted for the “unfit person” report too — it would not have got up otherwise — thus splitting the government parties and leaving the Tories looking isolated. It was also noted that Mensch is hardly unconnected from the Murdoch regime — her sister, inevitably named Tilly Bagshawe, and equally inevitably a chick-litterateur, is published by HarperCollins, News’ book publisher, as are a brace of other Tories, such as William Hague, whose depoliticising biography of William Wilberforce might best be described as “bald git lit”. Mensch/Bagshawe, despite throwing some fairly tough questions at the Murdochs and others, also attempted to spread the blame for phone hacking by making some false accusations against the Daily Mirror, a Labour tabloid.

However, again, these spats may be the least of the Murdochs’ worries, with news that US Senator Jay Rockefeller has officially asked the Leveson inquiry to supply any evidence that suggests that US laws have been breached by News — evidence that would flow into indictment of the Delaware-based groups of companies under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The network of statutes around such laws — derived from anti-gangster laws such as the RICO acts, which saw the old Mafia all but wrapped up in New York and elsewhere — are tougher than UK laws, and are attached to fiercely punitive US sentencing, which increasingly produces multi-decade sentences for white-collar crime.

Meanwhile, next week, former Newsistas Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson will appear before Leveson, under oath. Neither have a lot to lose — Coulson is still suing News to get his legal fees paid, and ‘bekah was referred to as “Brooks” by Rupe in his Leveson evidence, suggesting that she too is being cut loose. Both give every indication of being struck with the sycophantic calf-love that weak people have for Murdoch R — but there are limits, and they come into play well before the shades of the prison door begin to close. All this and the mayoral election too! Boris will most likely ace it in, under the tutelage of Crosby-Textor … should he fail for any reason it will be strong proof that the dynamic duo just ain’t that good at British politics.

Oh and the rich whore bit? Oh well, Mensch’s pathetic designer-jacket trailing for Rupe occasioned a lot of frustration at her prefectish, good-girl sanctimony, all issued through a face so lifted that it threatens to fly off her head and stick to the wall at any minute. Bagshawe/Mensch clearly has talent, but her life and biography suggests why she arouses such a reaction in people. Every week millions of people see someone like Mensch/Bagshawe prating on about free enterprise, etc, and wonder why they bother doing anything except getting bladdered at the local, or window-shopping at Foot Locker with a brick. She personifies the enforced despair of class privilege in a society that then judges people by their external accumulations. The only thing more inducive of despair was the way in which a few nasty comments then became the focus of debate in the media, i.e. The Guardian, with a sort of rolling Sussex University c.1976 discourse across its pages. Goin’ off, mate, it’s goin’ off …

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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