Government narrowly defeat plan for new Leveson inquiry after deal with DUP


Lord Justice Leveson ; Pic courtesy Leveson Inquiry website


UPDATE: Government defeated the Leveson2  inquiry by nine votes 304-295 . There were five Tory rebels. The nine DUP  MPs supported the government after they were offered a new press watchdog for Northern Ireland. The one independent Northern Ireland MP, Lady Hermon voted with Labour.

Five Tories voted with Labour – they were Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve ( former attorney general), Peter Bone, Philip Hollobone and Crispin Blunt.

One Labour MP John Grogan voted with the government to block Leveson 2.

Parliament will decide today whether a second Leveson inquiry  should go ahead and on new rules that would strengthen the role of press regulator Impress and force compulsory arbitration in libel cases.

Voting in the Commons on both motions is on a knife edge with  literally the decision being made on who turns up and whether very active campaigns by  mainstream media moguls or Hacked Off can convince wavering MPs.

Theresa May has staked her reputation on protecting Murdoch and Dacre from a second Leveson inquiry into malpractices by the media and scrapping the section which would have forced compulsory arbitration. At the Westminster  Correspondents Dinner she promised lobby journalists that ” very good news” was coming to help the media moguls avoid further scrutiny into their practices.

But her failure to control Parliament has put both promises at risk- hence the frenzied campaign  in the media to protect press freedom by media bosses who do not want some of the dark practices subject to forensic examination by Lord Leveson.

There are two motions today – one by former Labour leader Ed Miliband and Tory rebel Kenneth Clarke – aims to reinstate Leveson 2 after a Commons committee overturned a Lords resolution to hold the inquiry.

The second by Tom Watson, Labour deputy’s leader and long time campaigner against the Murdoch press, would implement the changes promised to force compulsory arbitration in libel cases – making court cases very expensive for the media even if they won.

The first motion stands the best chance of passing with guaranteed support from a number of Tory rebels, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the sole Green MP, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalists. Nobody seems sure how the DUP will vote.

This alliance is however dependent on everybody turning up and solid support among all the groups.

There was signs at the weekend  that media moguls had changed  tactics and were trying to persuade some Labour MPs not to back Ed Miliband’s motion and the one strengthening Impress-and suggesting this would go down very well in the mainstream media who might look favourably on covering some of the issues  these Labour MPs might want to take up. A senior Labour source told me : ” They (the Labour MPs) are trying to curry favour with the mass media”.

Labour whips have been alerted to this but some Labour MPs are playing their cards very close to their chests and trying to hide their proposed support. You can be sure there will be very active work done by Labour this morning to try and root them out.

The other problem  that could scupper a  defeat for the government will be if not all MPs turn up. Here the SNP with 35 MPs are a key group – but not all of them turn up if they have pressing business in Scotland. A  ” no show” by just a few in this group would have a big effect on the vote.

So today’s decision will depend on the capricious nature of MPs in Parliament – and how much priority they put into defeating the government over this issue.





Tony Blair’s top donor goes Bercow

lord levy

Lord Levy


On the very, very last day of Parliament  John Bercow, the Speaker, who faces the prospect of a contested General Election ( breaking normal precedent) announced some £20,000 in donations from some very surprising and controversial sources.

Released  the day Parliament was dissolved  it was revealed the music impresario Lord Levy – who infamously  and in his view unjustly got involved in the ” Cash for Honours” scandal has given a £5000 donation to John Bercow which presumably will go towards his election campaign.

Lord Levy, well known as Tony Blair’s tennis partner and  New Labour’s chief fund raiser  and at one stage close confidant of the former Labour PM, was arrested but never charged over the scandal which suggested that the party was soliciting donations with the hint of possible peerages for the party backers. The furore that followed led to a breach between Blair and Levy which subsequently, I understand, been healed.

john bercow

John Bercow, the Speaker Image credit: bbc

The second donation  is from property tycoon Sir David Garrard who was also involved in  the ” cash for honours” scandal before the police dropped the investigation. He had switched from supporting the Tories to New Labour.

He is also a fan of  former Labour leader Ed Miliband and gave Labour a whopping £500,000 at the last general election. He has given John Bercow a more modest £5000.

The third £5,000 donor is Sun Mark Ltd, run by entrepreneur Dr Rami Ranger ,who has won no fewer than five Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, for distributing products to supermarkets worldwide. His autobiography, From Nothing to Everything, I suspect, appeals to John Bercow, or at least the title would.

The final £5000 comes  I suspect from Michael Keegan, who is  the head of Fujitsu for the UK and Ireland. It would have been much more fun of it had been Michael Keegan-Kay, an American comedian and actor, who spent six seasons on madTV but that donation would be banned under the rules blocking foreign donors though.


Cameron’s half truth over his Leveson exoneration

Lord Justice Leveson: Pic courtesy of Leveson inquiry website

Lord Justice Leveson: Pic courtesy of Leveson inquiry website

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!


Vain Vince v. Bruiser Balls and Calamity Clegg

Vince on the prowl: pic courtesy BBC

Vince on the prowl: pic courtesy BBC

As we start gearing up to the next general election political parties always make extravagant claims that they will win. The reality at the moment is neither the two biggest parties – Labour or Tory – are likely to get an overall majority. The intervention of UKIP and the fact that the Liberal Democrats are likely to cling on in their strongholds – even if they lose seats – has seen to that.

That’s why the rather bizarre reconciliation between Nick Clegg and Ed Balls is particularly interesting. For whatever the  parties are saying publicly, everyone knows the Liberal Democrats will be talking to Labour as well as the Tories.And they will start worrying who is going to get what in any new coalition.

In  a story on Exaro News  earlier I illustrated this – from information obtained  from two independent  Westminster sources – one in the Labour Party and another in the Liberal Democrats – about the real reason why Ed Balls and Nick Clegg – who until now both publicly say they loathe each other – are kissing and making up.

 The answer is a premeditated power grab from Vince Cable, the current business secretary, to get  the chancellor’s job  from a somewhat unpopular Ed Balls. It appears according to both sources that the last thing Nick Clegg wants even if he were to remain deputy PM.

According to the Liberal Democrat source ” Vain Vince ” – once shadow chancellor for the Lib Dems – fancies the post but such a move would be anathema to both Clegg and Balls. Cable. The main reason is Cable’s tendency to keep things to himself . As the Lib Dem put it :

“It is no coincidence that Vince Cable and Gordon Brown were both young members of the Labour party in Scotland at the same time. They were very similar in keeping things to themselves,” said the source.

The insider recalled Clegg’s irritation with Cable as shadow chancellor. Clegg would complain to colleagues that he had to wait until Cable went on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to find out what the party’s economic policy was on a particular issue.

While Balls interest would be to get Clegg on side fuelled by the fact that his leader, Ed Miliband is warming towards Nick Clegg after they regularly met socially at last year’s Olympics.

The ability of politicians to scheme like rats in a sack is one of the more unenviable sides of Westminster politics. Getting the electorate to trust politicians is one thing. The fact that they don’t trust each other – especially among people in their own party – is quite another.




Hating Britain with the Daily Mail: A song medley

It is a Saturday night and the row over the Daily Mail, Ed Miliband and now Mehdi Hasan continues unabated. Here is a collection of anti Daily Mail songs. Who says satire is dead in Britain.The one below is bv Peter Bickerton The Daily Mail Song (a daily dose of hate).

I have just been sent by @BBCRadioForum another song by Amanda Palmer at the Roundhouse. Dear Daily Mail. Avert your eyes Paul Dacre, Ed Miliband and perhaps Mrs Angry from Barnet, this is a bit risque and contains female nudity.

And now Steve White has added his own song based on a Daily Mail story of an Ecstasy Death Girl. You can both listen to it and download it free here.
From Beastrabban Weblog here is a Chris Cohen number on the Daily Mail in 2009.

Finally so far – for those with long memories- here is a song from Irish band Blackthorn- on the Daily Mail’s 1920s coverage about another Sinn Fein rising. Some joker suggests they reported it from Holyhead, don’t know whether it is true.

Some And for those interested in more see Mike Sivier’s Vox Political website for ” You Hate Britain” by Mitch Benn which name checks Paul Dacre. I hope Paul Dacre has a sense of humour. Tom Baldwin, Labour’s chief media spokesman, tells me that a medley of these songs will be played at next year’s Labour Party Conference before the singing of the Red ” Ed” Flag.

The Mail maketh Miliband

A loving father and son: Ed and Ralph Miliband.

A loving father and son: Ed and Ralph Miliband.

The Daily Mail has achieved something that Labour activists could only dream about. Their ill-judged headline on Ed Miliband’s dad, Ralph Miliband, for hating Britain has enabled the Labour leader, to turn a potential weakness into a great strength.
For all his abilities one of Miliband’s great problems in presenting his image to the great British public is that he appears to be a geek. He is the sort of guy that you might think is too bookish and too engrossed in detail (penalty for being an ex special adviser to Gordon Brown) to be a natural born Prime Minister.
But in one fell swoop Paul Dacre has turned a geek into someone who practically the entire nation can empathise and understand. He has made him all too human.
What person in Britain does not understand the natural love to defend one’s dad -particularly if he can’t answer back beyond the grave. What person doesn’t know the natural love between father and son – even if they disagree over politics and football teams.
The Mail’s mess has allowed Miliband to transcend party politics and for people who don’t take any interest in political matters – to remember one thing , he is the sort of guy who stands up for his dad.
I am sure Ed Miliband never would have wanted this in the first place – and certainly wouldn’t even think of exploiting it politically. But the result is that Paul Dacre has achieved the exact opposite of what he wanted and it serves him right.
One can scarcely believe the ineptitude of the next event. The Mail on Sunday is caught going to a private memorial service for Ed Miliband’s uncle to gather more dirt on Ralph Miliband.
What editor would be daft enough a- a week before the highly sensitive decision on a successor to the Press Complaints Commission – to allow his paper to engage in activities that the general public would find distasteful and abhorrent. No wonder apologies were offered – but the probable effect – unless Cameron is completely foolhardy – is that the alternative regime to Leveson is now dead in the water.
Even though this is not directly about press regulation – it will be seen that papers have not learned any lessons.
And with the potential for more striking revelations at the end of the month when the trial of Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson starts over the phone hacking scandal, the situation for an embattled media can only get worse.

How Britain’s Political parties still campaign in an age of steam

Very 19th century: Ed Miliband campaigning, Pic credit:BBC

Very 19th century: Ed Miliband campaigning, Pic credit:BBC

The county council elections are upon us. Ed Miliband goes on a soapbox, leaflets are pushed through doors, canvassers turn up on doorsteps and people are supposed to rush to polling stations.

How brilliantly nineteenth century when  Gladstone and Disraeli drew crowds of thousands or even early twentieth when  Churchill (then a Liberal like Clegg) and Balfour campaigned across Manchester.

Politicians seem wedded to the old ways – like our splendid heritage railways – harking back to the glorious age of steam.

But this is the twenty-first century – the age of the internet, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and the rise of the blogger. – and the parties still – especially Labour – seem totally oblivious.

Indeed it is said that Tony Blair never communicated by computer – always getting a gopher to do his work – and  Gordon Brown tried to – but I gather his mistyping and mispelling are going to provide a field day  for commentators when his 5.30 am  e-mails are eventually released in 20 odd years time.

I see from my lobby colleague Oliver Wright (  – that Ed Miliband has asked Matthew McGregor, the British savvy computer guy who helped Obama attack dog Mitt Romney  to work on a new project for them. But this is but a straw.

Compare this to the massive success of campaigns since 2010 by groups like  38 degrees  and the glimmering of fights between Political Scrapbook and Guido Fawkes blog on the net , the rapid rise of hyper local blogs across London  from Barnet to Kidbrooke and  rural Derbyshire to West Wales. Compare  this also to the end of newspaper buying (unless free)  by almost anybody under 40, TV losing ratings, and most news being confined to a few sentences on an I phone.

Yet many politicians still behave as though the entire public still engage in debate in the same way as the crowds listening to Gladstone and Disraeli and avidly reading the morning newspapers. Sorry, I do not see people on the Berkhamsted Flyer debating the merits of Matthew Ancona versus Polly Toynbee.

It is time that  Britain’s political parties looked at how 38 degrees harnessed public opinion and not only used the net to find out what people want but engaged with their own members.

Otherwise David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband are little more than replicas of Squire Boldwood in Far From the Madding Crowd They are sad political estate owners who give an annual Christmas party ( substitute party conferences) for their labourers who till the land (  the party faithful). Why not use  the net for dialogue with their members and bring in the public to debate the issues.

Deference is dead, people want to communicate on an equal basis. They have great freedom to express themselves, from praise to local attack dog, and through the net  reach a wider audience  than they could possibly dream about a decade ago.

But politicians cling to being patricians, all not only out of touch but out of date. None of them has to live on £50 or even £250 a week. No wonder an  old fashioned election campaign is encouraging a party harking back to a Golden Britain, UKIP. Wake up you dozy leaders, get a grip.

Wake up Red Ed, Canny Cam is running rings round you


raise your game, red ed.Pic courtesy Belfast Telegraph


If I were David Cameron I would be sorely tempted to start planning now for any early election. Friday’s election results were a dream ticket for the Tories. They must have thought they had woken up in paradise. They managed to rout their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, on their core issue, electoral reform and get the electorate to blame them for the coalition’s broken promises. They destroyed much of the Liberal Democrats core base in Tory heartlands.  They actually GAINED council seats and councils when they were  already by far the largest party in local government.

In Wales, – Labour did brilliantly in South Wales – but the Tories are now in second place , having regained Mid Wales to add to Pembrokeshire and North Wales.  The only thing that marred the party was Alex Salmond’s spectacular win in Scotland, but there they can take comfort to see Labour stalled ( Labour’s vote held up but they lost seats because people turned to the Nationalists and not them).

 Only in the North where Labour’s  stellar performance did a similar demolition job on the Liberal Democrats ( some of the swings in Newcastle at 22 per cent were equivalent to old style Lib Dem by-election gains) were the Tories not in the picture.

While Labour’s 800 gains look respectable effectively they piled up votes in Liverpool , York Humberside, the North East, and the East Midlands. The victories in the South, Gravesham and Ipswich, were isolated. They failed to get back Dover, lost seats to the Tories in Dartford and Hemel Hempstead and failed to make a serious impact in Watford, Thurrock and Harlow. Gloucester, a bell weather election seat, saw its council go Tory.

 If there was an election tomorrow  Ed Miliband would get the Labour vote up but in many cases it would just increase existing Labour majorities or take Lib Dem seats. And that will not be enough to win. The Tories with more Lib Dem seats to gain already have an advantage, let alone their simple but wrong narrative that the cuts are all the fault of Labour. So while Ed’s strategy to get back disillusioned Lib Dems has been a good start, it is only a start.

The party needs to do two things. Find out what the Tory’s new-found friends in the South and Midlands really want from government and the issues where the Tories are really vulnerable. Labour will not win by only talking to itself. Ask why there was success in Gravesham but not Dartford.

Labour need to up their game and go on the offensive. Polite pussy footing around and sympathy will not win elections. Unless they take the Tory narrative head on and work out an alternative and believable narrative of their own they will get nowhere.

If they don’t do this they will be written out of the  script. They needn’t just use conventional media – which is slowly dying – to get their message across, they have the whole internet at their disposal and it’s free.

So get your act together, Ed. A new nose job is not enough to get you through the door at Downing Street.

To “Red” Ed:Some advice from a “has been” Hack

Ed Miliband: The need to be ruthless and brave Pic: courtesy peoplesrepublicofsouthdevon

Journos love a drama and nothing better than a fratricidal battle between two brothers. But the coverage by my colleagues of  ” Red” versus ” Dead ” Miliband has  been well over the top.

Basically the argument goes like this. Ed has already been defined by his enemies as  red in tooth and claw, only in power because of the machinations of  union barons who duped their members into supporting him to ditch his brilliant elder brother.

Now with Joe Public  well briefed – and with only that difficulty over spending cuts which a public  will reluctantly accept after being told Labour is to blame – the Tories will be able to romp home in four years time.  Just offer the  squeezed middle classes big tax cuts from selling off the banks.

This cartoon portrayal  is likely to go badly wrong. I have no inside knowledge of the Ed Miliband team but I do talk to a lot of contacts who deal with him – and if he is astute enough he has a winning card.

Some people are obviously up to a job, others grow into it. Ed is the latter. As a special adviser to Gordon he seemed frightened of the media. As a Cabinet Office minister the Whitehall view was that he was indecisive about what to do. But as climate change and energy secretary, Whitehall revised their opinion. He took  them on over   emission targets and won, and there is nothing more they like than a minister with a firm agenda.

It was similar in the leadership election campaign. His address to the Parliamentary Lobby lunch was OK, but lacked blood and fire. But through the large number of  hustings, his performance improved and  he was steadily winning the argument. It is a myth  to say that he won the vote because only union bosses backed him. It was his arguments that convinced the individual union members to vote for him and pushed the leaders into backing him. David Miliband – as an article about to appear in The Journalist will reveal – campaigned equally ferociously with the unions but lost the argument.

So where does that leave him? For a start with four years to establish his personality, policies and identity thanks to fixed term Parliaments. The mood  music will then be quite different. We are still in the phoney war over the cuts and higher taxes. From January when VAT goes up, we will face a rolling programme of higher taxes, lower benefits and unthinkable cuts to public services- defended equally by two major coalition parties.

His first speech suggests that he will fight a number of the cuts but not offer to restore every one. He will have to be fleet footed, ruthless, know his own mind and be able to create not just an alternative policy but an alternative narrative that can be believed by the general public. On some issues he will need to be brave, because  the policy may not be instantly popular. He needs to use focus groups not just to tell him what people think but how he can influence people to think differently.

 He should not  underestimate his main opponent David Cameron. Behind  the public relations manner is a ruthless brain – just look at how he handled the expenses saga, leaving Gordon looking flat footed.

One Tory contact of mine at the conference  –  who  I have known for years- had a chilling insight into the right wing agenda. He said he did not mind if it was a one term coalition – because by 2015 they would have dismantled so much of the state – that  a Labour government would never have the money to put it back. His money comes from the Far East and the oil rich states surrounding Russia- so he doesn’t care if the UK does not really prosper – as he thinks  India and China will be the wealthy power houses of the future. That if nothing else should be warning to Ed of what he has got to do.