Hacked off, and failing to spot the merits of Neil KinnockFebruary 25, 2010
Another wheel is slowly winding loose:
David Cameron’s communications director, Andy Coulson, will come under fresh pressure to defend his editorship of the News of the World and his knowledge about the illegal activities of his journalists amid new allegations about the paper’s involvement with private detectives who broke the law.
When I finished talking to the Sunday Mirror news desk I found I had seven missed calls. It seemed rather strange but on this particular day nothing was ordinary.
A friend of a friend had spent a few nocturnal hours with a married celebrity chef after meeting him in London’s Chinawhite and somehow this unremarkable fact had found its way back to me.
This was not the sort of journalism I valued but it was impossible to work in Fleet Street and not know the value it had – so I called the News of the World…
It was only later that I realised that the repeated calls which came in a quick burst while I was on the phone were made to hack into my voicemail. The reporter I had spoken to at the News of the World was Clive Goodman.
The hacking attempt was aided by T-Mobile’s unbelievably lax security: “The person who rang pretending to be me fell at the first hurdle: apparently I couldn’t remember my own date of birth.”
For my money, all this knocks the Brown “bullying” tittle-tattle sideways. That Prime Ministers in general, and Brown in particular, might not be the most pleasant people to work with is hardly news.
That the would-be PM’s director of communications, whilst editor of Britain’s biggest-selling Sunday tabloid, seemingly allowed the hiring of private investigators known to have broken the law, and known to have hacked personal information – that is a little more noteworthy.
The investigator singled out by the Guardian, unnamed at present because he is “facing trial for a violent crime”, appeared to be “blagging bank accounts, bribing police officers, procuring confidential data from the DVLA and phone companies, and trading sensitive material from live police inquiries.”
A real charmer, evidently. And with 19 people now positively identified as having had their voicemails hacked by NotW, with over 100 still unknown, it’s not clear how long Coulson’s timely bout of amnesia can hold out.
This isn’t the only reason the Tories haven’t clinched the deal. They have neither wholly convinced the City and business in general, nor sufficiently swayed the country at large. Their poll ratings have remained stubbornly below the 40 per cent barrier regarded as necessary to clinch an election, this close to its date.
Brown and Labour aren’t popular, obviously, but as we’ve seen since at least the 2008 London elections, a half-way credible Tory threat pushes Labour voters back into the polls. Turnout will be up in the tighter contest of 2010, breaking the pattern of the last decade.
James Mackenzie, writing in the New Statesman, I think gets Cameron’s underlying predicament spot-on:
Cameron has done much to change the image of his party, and his desire to reach out beyond the core Tory supporters is genuine. But on policy, he and Osborne have long boasted that they need no “Clause Four moment”, no dramatic demonstration of change equivalent to Neil Kinnock’s expulsion of Militant in 1986. On each major policy issue, from allying with fringe far-right parties in Europe to offering tax allowances to married couples, Cameron has ultimately jumped rightwards.
The Cameroon project has been to maximise the perception of change while minimising the reality of it. The approach is summed up by a sentence in a leaked document about Tory candidate selection, written by Gove. “Like a conjuror, we’ll get more applause if the audience cannot see exactly how the trick is performed.”
Kinnock spent years knocking seven shades out of the left – losing two elections in the process – but preparing the way for New Labour. There were witch-hunts, expulsions, political dramas of every kind, aided every step of the way by a concerted intellectual effort associated, in particular, with the Marxism Today magazine. The rise of New Labour is impossible to understand without grasping all this first.
Cameron has done none of that. He has produced, instead, a virtual reality Blairism – a simulation of New Labour, without the real political meat. Where Labour reformers could call upon Stuart Hall and Eric Hobsbawm, say, for intellectual clout, David Cameron has, um, Philip Blond for “mood music”. Where Kinnock set up kangaroo courts to drive out his opponents, Cameron has quietly (as Mackenzie says) accommodated to them.
His reforms fail to convince because they are not really reforms. It is one thing to presume that the route to power lies through the destruction of much of your own side, and to loudly proclaim this belief. It is another thing entirely to actually carry this out.
If Cameron were wiser, he would have paid more attention to Labour in the 80s, than Labour in the 90s. There lies his model for reform.
But then who wants to be history’s second Neil Kinnock?