Yesterday’s clash between Ed Miliband and David Cameron over the Coulson affair was dominated by the Prime Minister’s assertion that he had been cleared by the Leveson inquiry of doing anything wrong.
He could happily quote Leveson’s findings which clear not only him but Rebekah Brooks – also now cleared of knowledge of phone hacking by a British jury – of behaving badly in any improper relationships between Number Ten and the Murdoch empire.
But delve a bit deeper into this rather contorted report – all one million words of it – which probably neither Cameron nor Miliband have – and you will find quite a different story.
Go to Volume Four and Appendix Five – and get one of the most devastating critiques of the incestuous relationship between top politicians and the media I have ever read from a High Court judge in my 27 years of political journalism.
As I reported before “he attacks what he calls the ” inappropriate closeness” between media bosses and successive governments not just now – but for over 35 years. Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron are all indicted in a damning charge sheet.
He baldly states “ politicians have conducted themselves in a way that I do consider has not served the public interest”.
He accuses them of being vulnerable to unaccountable interests, missing clear opportunities to address public concern about the culture, practices and ethics of the press and seeking “ to control ( if not manipulate) the supply of news and information to the public in return for expected or hoped-for favourable treatment by sections of the press.”
He concluded that all this gave rise to “legitimate perceptions and concerns that politicians and the press have traded power and influence in ways which are contrary to the public interest and out of public sight. These perceptions and concerns are inevitably particularly acute in relation to the conduct by politicians of public policy issues in relations to the press itself.”
Some exoneration for Mr Cameron and his predecessors!
If Labour had been sharp enough yesterday Ed Miliband could have rebutted Cameron’s confident assertions. But it may not be surprising that he missed it – because of the mismatch between Leveson’s conclusions and his comments on the sad state of the relationship between leading politicians and media proprietors. It has close similarities to the way the Hutton inquiry exonerated Blair and Campbell despite revealing some devastating facts.
But in no way can either Cameron or Murdoch be complacent about their respective roles in trading power for influence which is at the heart of why both the mainstream media and politicians are widely distrusted by the general public.
And with more to come no politician can afford to brush this aside as ” a here today, gone tomorrow” story!