AFTER the guest performers had their day in the spotlight, yesterday it was left to the household to finish the remains of the humble pie and set things straight.
David Cameron managed only one bite of the lowly dish and left a number of questions hanging.
He had set about the task decisively by cutting short his trade mission to Africa, recalling Parliament. In taking a large number of questions in a lengthy Commons debate, the Prime Minister sought to show himself responsive to public concern and accountable to the Commons. His essential task, however, was to defuse the accumulating questions on two issues. Did he sufficiently investigate whether the former editor of the News of the World Andy Coulson knew about the phone hacking before appointing him as director of communications? Did his many meetings with News International executives have any bearing on the Government’s approach to the company’s bid for BSkyB?
Mr Cameron’s rueful admission that with 20:20 hindsight he would not have offered Mr Coulson a job showed his first hint of contrition: “You live and you learn and believe you me, I have learned.” But it was some distance short of an apology (although a profound one is promised if it transpires his former communications director lied) and further from the mea culpa that was sought by Ed Miliband.
The Prime Minister took refuge in his distance from the process of reaching a decision which rested with the Culture Secretary. However, insisting that he never had an “inappropriate” conversation with News Corp executives stretches credibility when accompanied by an inability to deny categorically having discussed the BSkyB deal in private conversations. The power of the social network is exactly why a register of meetings is required. It is no mere coincidence that the leaders of all three main parties at Westminster have published a record of their contacts with News Corp in the past week and First Minister Alex Salmond has pledged to publish a list of all meetings with media executives. The shockingly belated decision to stop paying the legal fees of Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator jailed for phone hacking on behalf of the News of the World in 2007, may owe as much to the fact of the payments being made public as to a new resolve at the top of the company to weed out wrongdoing.
As the Commons home affairs committee criticised News International’s “deliberate attempts to thwart investigations”, Mr Cameron also rushed to wield a new broom in relation to the inquiry under Lord Justice Leveson, announcing a robust team of panel members and extending its remit, while the Met has considerably increased the number of police officers in the phone hacking investigation. In the United States and Australia the extent of the illegal and unethical practices has caused shockwaves prompting calls for News Corp shareholders to have voting rights.
The clean-up has taken far too long but this bustle of activity is welcome evidence of a new understanding of the need to leave not even the most obstinate stone unturned if the police, press and politicians are to regain public trust.
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