Osborne emerges unscathed from Leveson

The Tories will be delighted with the Chancellor's calm performance.

Given the potential for upset, the Conservatives will be delighted with how well George Osborne's appearance at the Leveson inquiry went. The Chancellor, who was evidently well-prepared, gave an impressively calm performance that will go way some to restoring his diminished political reputation.

There were no bombshells, no revelations of inappropriate contact with the Murdochs, and Osborne successfully fielded a series of questions on Jeremy Hunt and Andy Coulson. Asked why Hunt was given responsibility for the BSkyB bid, he passed the buck to the then-permanent secretary, Jeremy Heywood, who advised that the Culture Secretary should be handed control. Hunt's publicly-expressed support for the bid was "not considered" a problem, although Osborne notably added that the inquiry would need to ask David Cameron about the legal advice he received on the subject.

On Coulson, he argued persuasively that the former News of the World editor was hired principally for his journalistic nous, not for his News International contacts ("which were already well-established"). The Chancellor, who told the inquiry that he remained "a friend" of Coulson ("though sadly I have not been able to speak to him for a year"), expressed genuine regard for Coulson's abilities as a spinner. As Rafael wrote recently, the Tories feel sorrow, rather than anger, at his downfall.

Osborne revealed that he asked Coulson whether there was "more in the phone-hacking story that was going to come out" and accepted his assurances. He added that he assumed that there was nothing more to be revealed because of statements from the Press Complaints Commission and the trial of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire. In a missed opportunity, Robert Jay QC did not go on to ask Osborne whether he changed his view when the Guardian revealed that phone-hacking went far beyond "one rogue reporter". We already know from Coulson's testimony that Cameron, perhaps afraid of what he would learn, sought no further assurances at this point.

Cameron and those who advised him (including Osborne) remain guilty of showing terrible judgement by appointing Hunt and Coulson to their respective positions. The Murdoch scandal continues to dog every attempt they make to relaunch their moribund government. It has provided, and will continue to provide, Labour with an endless stream of bad news stories. But, for now, the Tories will be relieved that Osborne's appearance merely confirmed, rather than deepened, their woes.

Chancellor George Osborne leaves after giving evidence at the Leveson inquiry. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.