DPMQs: “Grotesque” and “beneath contempt” – Clegg on the Milly Dowler phone hacking allegations

The highest profile issue at Deputy Prime Minister’s questions today was the issue of press phone hacking in the light of the allegations concerning Milly Dowler and the News of the World.

Harriet Harman asked Nick Clegg to back Ed Miliband’s call for a general public inquiry into illegality in the newspaper industry. As someone has said, this is a bit like holding an inquiry into why we get bad weather. In a sign of divisions within Labour, Chris Bryant, in contrast, has called for a more narrow inquiry.

Nick Clegg stopped short of backing an inquiry but, instead, emphasised the importance of the police doing their job, while strongly condemning the behaviour alleged in the latest revelations:

…if the allegations are true such behavior is beneath contempt. To hack into the phone of a missing child is grotesque, and the suggestion that that might have given false hope to Milly’s parents that she might have been alive only makes it all the more heart-rending. The absolute priority is now to get to the bottom of what actually happened – what is the truth – and that requires, above and beyond everything else, a police investigation that pursues the evidence ruthlessly wherever it leads.

House of Lords reform was, as usual, high on the agenda. The recent Commons debate on the subject centred, to a large degree, on fears that the Commons would lose its supremacy to the Lords. Nick Clegg was at pains to emphasise repeatedly that the Bill will be worded so that the House of Commons remains supreme:

Bicameral chambers all round the world manage this relationship perfectly adequately, with two directly elected chambers that have a relationship of subservience between the one and the other.

Matters concerning the electoral register were discussed at length. The government is investing great effort into “matching data pilots”. This is where electoral officers use publicly available databases to make comparisons with the electoral roll, to identify those people who are not registered to vote. They will then “follow up” those people.

Angela Smith (Lab) bowled Clegg a bit of a googly. She claimed that LibDem councilors in Sheffield have recently co-opted a “United Kingdom Independence Party candidate” to “one of our local town councils to maintain their grip on power”. Nick Clegg did not know to what Smith was referring. Indeed, I am unable to find anything about it on Google or Twitter (except for two repetitions of Ms Smith’s accusation).

According to David Amess, Conservative MP for Southend West, the “whole country” is “gripped by Southend mania”. Eh? ….It was something to do with their bid for city status, since you ask.

In common with David Cameron, the Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office, Mark Harper (Con), was taught by Vernon Bogdanor. Mark Harper also answers questions at these sessions. He stated that he disagrees with Bogdanor on the issue of fixed term parliaments, calling them “a huge constitutional improvement”. Coalition trebles all round.

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29 Comments

  • But is he willing to do something to stop that rotten organisation (News International) from managing to takeover Sky? The last thing the UK needs is a British version of Fox News poisoning the political debate. What is Clegg actually going to do about it, words don’t count for anything.

  • @Olly
    “… it would seem that the Met is in News International’s pocket”

    Why the Met, who was in power at that time and were they also in the NI pocket? After all, it seems that events going back to 2006 seem to have started coming to light after a certain paper stopped supporting a certain party.

    Perhaps the Met were in the pocket of that Party who were, in turn, in the pocket of NI?

  • Bear in mind that Coulson and Brooks are people Cameron considers to be friends. Our very own PM spent Christmas with Brooks, for god’s sake! One of them (Coulson) was recently on the public payroll. This most certainly raises questions about Cameron’s judgment. As for Murdoch, the very question of him being fit to run a corporation should automatically put the BSkyB deal on hold pending further investigation. And now it looks like the Met indeed had a very close relationship with News Corp.

    As if any more proof was needed that our society is corrupt to eh bone. The whole thing stinks.

  • @alec

    “Oh, dear, Chris… where to start? Nah, sod it, let’s all run like a rhinoceros”

    OK dokey, just trotting off now 😉
    I actually thought it was a much better conspiracy theory that the Met being in the pocket of NI – that is just way to simple and one dimensional 😀

  • Alec – I have listened time and time again to people saying how appalled they are at the latest tabloid outrage and whilst it is easy to sympathise with your statement: “Labour and Tory (rank and file, at least), working and middle class, young and old, with and without children, left and right, up and down all detest NOTW”, the circulation figures would suggest otherwise. The only people who have ever really demonstrated genuine outrage are the good people of Liverpool who kept up a boycott of the Sun which was really felt in circulation figures for a long time after Hillsborough.

    If people really want to achieve change, this latest outrage (which really does plumb new depths), the answer is to organise a boycott of the NOTW. Who is calling for one?

  • If Clegg doesn’t stand up today and call for a public enquiry, clearly state that Murdoch’s empire is not a fit organisation to be in control of even more of the media he will have shirked his leadership responsibilities.

  • Peebee, not sure that would be wise. Stating that Murdoch’s empire is not a fit organisation resulted in Vince Cable losing his power to prevent the BSkyB takeover…..

    The leading parts of the Coalition seem to want to keep Murdoch happy, and all the Lib Dems have done is wring their hands. However, i’m sure an alliance with Labour could muster sufficient votes for various public inquiries…

  • And never be in doubt how the right wing press operates to protect its own… I actually thought this was a hoax when I first saw it, but no, just an example of what Cameron’s mates think is the appropriate comment at this time

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/davidhughes/100095338/what-is-the-bbc-really-trying-to-do-with-its-milly-dowler-coverage/

  • @Alec Macph Posted 6th July 2011 at 12:25 am

    “Anyone turning this into any sort of jibe at a third party will be seen in pretty much the same light as someone who thinks it’s okay to hack into the ‘phone messages of 13 year old girls; even the ones who are not feared to have been abducted.”

    Actually Alec, I don’t need some sort of veiled threat to make me appalled at the tabloids (Sunday or daily), I haven’t bought one for a very long time. What I find laughable is the fact that everyone here goes on about NI when they are all pretty much the same, you buy your tittle tattle according to your political preference. If you buy ANY of them, then YOU are partly responsible for what has and is happening.

    As Mark G has said, the true test of the outrage is the circulation figures, if in a couple of months time they are pretty much back to normal then we will know that the desire for gossip has outweighed any need for serious news.

  • chris_sh For goodness sake – answer the accusation levelled at you, not some kind of evasive politician – lite (or was that like?) answer. You were wrong to start trying to involve others, and especially other political parties. In my experience of tabloid readers, they don’t necessarily “pick up their tittle tattle according to political preference” anyway.
    News International does have a deserved reputation of being the worst of the bunch, and frankly where they are now is richly deserved.

    Is anyone calling for a boycott of NoTW? Yes, I am. I have informally boycotted NI for many years, as have many other people. Other than a boycott, I see this as extraordinary and early vindication of Vince Cable’s stance, when he was taken off the decision on the BSkyB case. Our party needs to make a last minute fuss about this to ensure the decision goes against BSkyB. For goodness sake, many people would be impressed by front line politicians able and prepared to stand up to Murdoch. Sorry, another aspect of “the new politics”.

    I think, however, the call for an Inquiry can be a bit of a scatter gun approach. And the difficulties of such an inquiry, when clearly the police have been involved in these issues are great. What I mean by that is that it is difficult at present to know how wide or narrow to set the remit for such an Inquiry

  • Tim13 Posted 6th July 2011 at 8:43 am

    What accusation? I saw threats and I saw a rant, I didn’t see an accusation?

    Perhaps you missed a salient point – they are all in competition to provide the most lurid story and win circulation so refusing to buy the NofW is pointless if you just start buying one of the other rags instead. The only way to break the cycle is to avoid them all thus forcing them to come up with a new business model. Hence I stand by my point, if you buy any of them then what has happened is partially parked at your door.

    “In my experience of tabloid readers, they don’t necessarily “pick up their tittle tattle according to political preference” anyway.”
    They buy the tabloid of their political choice, so a true lefty may only buy Mirror Group titles, a righty may only buy NI titles etc. Perhaps I should have written you are more likely to excuse the tabloid that follows your your political persuasion.

    Whilst this is a truly awful case (and yes I think what they went through is awful and I hope that the family finds some sort of closure if that is possible), there is another going on at the moment regarding a certain Mr Jefferies which could have had very serious ramifications for him. Has anyone actually mentioned it here yet? No, thought not, even though it again covers the way tabloids act in the cut throat race for market share.

  • gramsci's eyes 6th Jul '11 - 9:06am

    Anyone hear Cable obfusacate when asked on a TV interview if Brooks should resign?

    How’s that war against Murdoch going Vince?

  • steve wilson 6th Jul '11 - 10:39am

    you need to checkout Stockbridge Town Council it is here the Lib Dems co-opted Grant French the failed UKIP candidate for Stocksbridge onto the council.

    To muse over Grants thoughts you should visit his Facebook page and see if they coincide with those of his new fellow councillors, especially his views on Europe.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 6th Jul '11 - 11:16am

    @Steve Wilson

    One slight snag with this attack on the LibDems. Stocksbridge Town Council is not a LibDem controlled council. It’s no overall control. Prior to the co-option, the council had 3 Labour councillors, 3 Liberal Democrats and 1 Conservative councillor, with a LibDem in the chair.

    The UKIP is not the BNP. It’s non-inconceivable that the person in question is a hard working community activist, is it?

  • Alec Macph Posted 6th July 2011 at 11:01 am

    Hey Mr Pot, you people came up with a totally ludicrous conspiracy (“the Met is in News International’s pocket”) I put forward another one – however as my ludicrous theory could be seen as an attack on the left you got all offended and tried the trusted tactic of “If you are not on our wavelength, you are evil”.

    As this is a similar method often used by the tabloids to whip up a frenzy in the masses, the responce is probably a good indicator as to why said tabloids will never go away. It’s is a crying shame but human nature as I suppose NI is your particular “red under the bed”.

    However, to your points, first this has nothing to do with how I feel about Labour/Blair – though I do note that they had a chance to set up an enquiry during their watch and fluffed it. It’s only now that they are in opposition that they seem to have found it such a moral outrage.

    It has to do with the blind obediance to their own that is shown by people on websites like this – your media = bad, my media = paragons of virtue (replace “my” with “right” or “left” depending on what site you are reading).

    i. Well – as this all happened on the Labour watch (approx 2006 – 2010) then I’m not surprised that there were more convictions for it – there could have been more except for my point above about them screwing up the chance to have an in depth investigation.

    ii. Read what I wrote

    iii. Not aware of that case so I’ll take your word for it and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

    iv. Not at all shocked and I doubt if it is restricted to this particular group as it has probably been going on since time began.

    So working on the basis that there are none as blind as those that will not see, how about some guidance for you:

    a. Go with the announced inquiry, but widen the remit to see how common place the practice is in the industry. Everything on oath so that if it is later found that some one lied then they can be sent to jail without passing go.

    b. Include an element that fully investigates why the original proposed investigation was pulled, all involved politicians and police to be questioned. This includes Prescott, if he was so adamant that his phone had been hacked why did he agree to kick the investigation into touch (I would assume that it would have been discussed amongst ministers as it was such a sensitive subject). Find out why the Police didn’t bother following up on that huge amount of information they obtained etc and continually claimed that there was “nothing to see here”.

    c. Find out how widespread the practice is for paying police officers for information, chuck those who authorise payment and the recipients of such payment into jail.

    d. Set up a truly independant complaints commission for the press, with legal safeguards against political pressure and to stop it being loaded with cronies. Give it enough power to walk into any news organisation and search the books (could be a good place for all those moral guardians to go once they’ve been chucked out of the Lords).

    Having said all that, if people carry on reading this sort of stuff then it will continue to be published – so instead of just going after the papers, people should be reminded that the core cause of all of this was their nosiness (as opposed to their desire for news).

  • Alec Macph Posted 6th July 2011 at 3:50 pm

    “My word, Chris, you’re furious, aint you? Livid”
    Nope, quite calm but saddened I suppose.

    “I’d go as far as saying you’re in the grip of a narcissistic injury”
    Next phase of socialist education? If you don’t agree and maybe not evil, perhaps you’re mentally ill? I don’t know if I am or not as I’m not qualified to say, so I’ll have to bow to your superior knowledge.

    “You either were being serious and meant on face value what you said, or you weren’t. ”
    I’ve already said what I was

    “loath the NotW for arsing about with the Dowler ”
    Oh I understand – just as I understand how much people hated the papers after the death of Princess Di and how they felt that that sort of thing should never happen again. However, I live in reality so I know that even if the NofW goes to the wall, there will just be a new top dog in town. The people will carry on with a feeling of vindication – until the next time.
    But at this moment in time there is a chance to sort the whole thing out – it will probably be wasted because people are so transfixed by the NofW that they can not see beyond it or want to make some anti Murdoch statement (note, both the DM and the Sun are currently awaiting the outcome of a contempt of court hearing – so this isn’t something that is one off and everyone has known how they operated for years).

    “What the smeg are you talking about? Read my response to Peebee and you’ll see that I do not think the rot is restricted to NotW”
    I know you did – if you thought I was talking about you specifically then I apologise, but you are one of the few.

  • Alec – you continue to report the widespread loathing of the NOTW. My point is quite a simple one – people always saying that they are completely outraged by tabloid behaviour and then quietly go back to buying it again if indeed they ever stop… I have no doubt that this will likely be the case again.

    The difference with the Liverpool case was that people actually banded together and organised a proper boycott which held for a number of years by shaming people who were thinking of selling or buying the Sun. If people really want to make a difference, that’s what they need to do now – as you say, there is plenty of good reason but it doesn’t happen without organisation. So, here’s a suggestion to local Lib Dem parties – how about making a campaign in your area targeting local newsagents?

    (Oh – and to those who say above that all tabloids are the same, I think it is absolutely clear that NOTW has plumbed new depths and all boycotts need clear rather than diffuse targets).

  • @ Mark G Posted 7th July 2011 at 3:33 am

    “(Oh – and to those who say above that all tabloids are the same, I think it is absolutely clear that NOTW has plumbed new depths and all boycotts need clear rather than diffuse targets).”

    I actually don’t have a problem with boycotts etc if that is what people want when something like this happens (it’s all academic now that it has closed anyway). But as I’ve said before, you need to sort out the whole thing and the danger is that now the NofW has gone it will all be quietly forgotten about over time – and then it will all happen again when some one else becomes the victim.

    Hopefully the various inquiries will sort something out for the future.

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