Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Coulson diversions: the SpAd and the Child Benefit

[EDIT: Added link to Telegraph article strongly supporting the "Child Benefit announcement was rushed" theory.]

As I blogged yesterday, Monday's Dispatches on Channel 4 exposed an extraordinary shift in the power of the press, specifically Rupert Murdoch's News International.

The phone tapping scandal - gross invasions of privacy committed by many editors and journalists but notably including one Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the World and now head of communications in the heart of the Tory government -should be a massive news story, with potentially hundreds of arrests and prosecutions, and the redrawing of attitudes towards large media ownership and control.

But in reality, there is an effective news blackout, and the police are refusing to investigate. We know why this is, of course - the very power that was exposed in that programme has been applied very effectively to achieve this result.

But the power of Downing Street has also been applied. And I'm not talking about Cameron, I'm talking about Coulson again.

It's easy to identify the two most significant pieces of exposure this story has had since the Tories came to power. The first was on 1st September, when the New York Times published a huge, explosive exposé of the scandal. And the second was Monday, 4th October, the day the Dispatches programme was aired on Channel 4.

Isn't it extraordinary, then, that on both of those dates, stories were fed to the press by the communications machine in Downing Street which eclipsed the phone hacking scandal? On 1st September, William Hague was persuaded to make an extraordinary personal statement about his relationship with his special adviser, which dominated the front pages and relegated any coverage of the NYT story to also-ran status. This was widely regarded as a mistake and inexplicable as a piece of media management. And on 4th October, in a move openly acknowledged as unplanned and surprising by senior Tory ministers, George Osborne was persuaded to announce a cut in Child Benefit - an announcement which has since unravelled and been backtracked, exposing it for the rush-job that it clearly was.

The clear conclusion is that, alongside the protection racket which ensures that politicians and police officers are scared into doing what News International wants, there is also a press strategy being played out by Cameron's government which is determined to obscure, deflect from and avoid all coverage for this scandal.

I hope that our politicians and our police develop the courage and principles needed to rid us of this media hegemony. Unless they do, we are doomed to a dystopian future where press barons rule the world in their own interest.


  1. You are right on the nail here Duncan. No-one is asking this question - at least not in public. Andrew Grice in the Independent today clarified that Cameron and Osborne hatched this plan without consultation, probably on Monday, but doesn't say why.

    Yours is the only coherent explanation I have seen. It also explains Osborne's extraordinary silence since his speech - declining to carry the can I suspect, whereas Hague fell on his sword.

    Trouble is, press cannot do much about it, Oborne's courage in Dispatches notwithstanding. Anyone in the public arena is potentially in Murdoch's cross-hairs. It will need something like a twitter storm by unknowns to make a difference.

  2. DC has said Rupert doesn't sit in the cabinet - well he not likely to is he? he gives orders he doesn't sit around discussing them with his inferiors.

    He, probably wielding more power and influence than most, is another non domicile wanting to maintain/increase his share of the cake in UK Ltd by exercising his power over Government.

    Did David Cameron take on AC because he was incompent at knowing what was going on? Did he take him on because he knew exactly what was going but didn't allow himself to be caught? Or could it be that he, AC, still retains some of those "secret" dossiers mentioned in the "Dispatches" report?

    There has been a deafening wall of silence surrounding this affair in the media (with one or two notable exceptions) possibly because they all have their "secret" dossiers.
    But it also appears from the "Dispatches" program that a similar sinister wall of silence pervades many prominent people in society either, because of fear of retribution, or because they have been paid off.
    What we need is a new Barnes Wallis to blast away at the foundations of these walls - Let us pray that George Galloway and similar minded people are prepared to go to Court and that some evidence remains from the work of the shredders.