Chattering class obsession or the shame of Britain?

Sharply divergent views on the hacking scandal from the <em> Mail </em> and the <em> Telegraph</em>.

The country's two main right-wing newspapers, the Telegraph and Daily Mail, have taken very different editorial lines on the phone-hacking scandal and the crisis in Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

As several commentators have noted on Twitter, the Daily Telegraph's leader today is in thundering form, calling hacking "a scandal that has diminished Britain". It excoriates Rebekah Brooks, David Cameron, Rupert Murdoch and the Metropolitan police.

After the revelations of the past week, the whole world has learned the shameful truth about modern Britain: that its leading politicians and policemen have been lining up to have their palms greased and images burnished by executives of a media empire guilty of deeply criminal - and morally repugnant - invasions of personal privacy. . .

David Cameron should have dismantled this quasi-masonic circle, with its conspiratorial deal-cutting and back-scratching. Instead, encouraged by George Osborne, he invited the circle into Downing Street, giving Mr Coulson an undeserved second chance. Mr Cameron is paying the price for this and other cynical moves. At a time when he is supposed to be navigating Britain through both the domestic and global debt crises, the Prime Minister is desperately trying to align himself with public opinion and distance himself from the News International scandal. Government has given way to the shallowest form of crisis management.

The Mail, however, considers phone-hacking to be a diversion from "the real problems facing Britain" - the financial problems in the Eurozone, the worries over the US's credit rating, soaring fuel prices at home. In Friday's leader, it declaimed:

In a sane world, politicians would be working round the clock to help rectify these dire problems. But sadly, they are far too busy enjoying a frenzy of vengeful score-settling against the Murdoch press.
Even though the News of the World has been closed, the BSkyB takeover bid withdrawn, and Rupert Murdoch has promised to co-operate with the judicial inquiries, the bloodlust - orchestrated by a vastly subsidised BBC - continues.

. . . The stink of schadenfreude from Britain's chattering classes is overpowering.

It remains to be seen who is most in touch with the public mood on this.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.