Leaked Labour email: lay off Murdoch

Opposition leader attempts to turn down the heat on the phone-hacking scandal.

An email, forwarded on behalf of Ed Miliband's director of strategy, Tom Baldwin, to all shadow cabinet teams warns Labour spokespeople to avoid linking hacking with the BSkyB bid, to accept ministerial assurances that meetings with Rupert Murdoch are not influencing that process, and to ensure that complaints about tapping are made in a personal, not shadow ministerial, capacity.

The circular, sent by a Labour press officer on 27 January, states: "Tom Baldwin has requested that any front-bench spokespeople use the following line when questioned on phone-hacking. BSkyB bid and phone-tapping . . . these issues should not be linked. One is a competition issue, the other an allegation of criminal activity."

It goes on: "Downing Street says that Cameron's dinners with Murdoch will not affect Hunt's judgement. We have to take them at their word."

Referring separately to the phone-hacking allegations, the memo states: "We believe the police should thoroughly investigate all allegations. But this is not just an issue about News International. Almost every media organisation in the country may end up becoming embroiled in these allegations."

It adds: "Front-bench spokespeople who want to talk about their personal experiences of being tapped should make it clear they are doing just that – speaking from personal experience."

The guidance concludes with the warning, "We must guard against anything which appears to be attacking a particular newspaper group out of spite."

The memo follows a number of recent high-profile interventions from Ed Miliband in the phone-hacking issue. In the wake of the resignation of Andy Coulson, the Labour leader criticised David Cameron, stating that the affair raised "questions about David Cameron's judgment about hanging on to him as long as he did".

Miliband also raised Coulson's impending departure at last Wednesday's Prime Minister's Questions.

Here's the full text of the email:

From: xxxx | Sent: 27 January 2011 To: xxxx
Subject: Important: Phone hacking

Dear all,

Tom Baldwin has requested that any front bench spokespeople use the following line when questioned on phone hacking.

BSkyB bid and phone tapping
These issues should not be linked. One is a competition issue, the other an allegation of criminal activity.

On BSkyB, we have been consistent in calling for fair play. We believe ministers should conduct themselves properly in what is a quasi-judicial process. We said Vince Cable showed he was incapable of behaving fairly towards News Corp. We have since raised questions about whether Jeremy Hunt can be fully impartial given his record of past statements. We do believe the bid should be referred to the Competition Commission and think Hunt should get on with it. Downing Street says that Cameron's dinners with Murdoch will not affect Hunt's judgement. We have to take them at their word.

On phone hacking, we believe the police should thoroughly investigate all allegations. But this is not just an issue about News International. Almost every media organisation in the country may end up becoming embroiled in these allegations. This goes to the root of a wider problem in public life. MPs are taking a hard look at themselves in the mirror over expenses. It is time the media did so too over the way it conducts itself.

Frontbench spokespeople who want to talk about their personal experiences of being tapped should make it clear they are doing just that – speaking from personal experience.

We must guard against anything which appears to be attacking a particular newspaper group out of spite.

Thanks,

xxxx

Labour Party Press Office

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

George Osborne's mistakes are coming back to haunt him

George Osborne's next budget may be a zombie one, warns Chris Leslie.

Spending Reviews are supposed to set a strategic, stable course for at least a three year period. But just three months since the Chancellor claimed he no longer needed to cut as far or as fast this Parliament, his over-optimistic reliance on bullish forecasts looks misplaced.

There is a real risk that the Budget on March 16 will be a ‘zombie’ Budget, with the spectre of cuts everyone thought had been avoided rearing their ugly head again, unwelcome for both the public and for the Chancellor’s own ambitions.

In November George Osborne relied heavily on a surprise £27billion windfall from statistical reclassifications and forecasting optimism to bury expected police cuts and politically disastrous cuts to tax credits. We were assured these issues had been laid to rest.

But the Chancellor’s swagger may have been premature. Those higher income tax receipts he was banking on? It turns out wage growth may not be so buoyant, according to last week’s Bank of England Inflation Report. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggest the outlook for earnings growth will be revised down taking £5billion from revenues.

Improved capital gains tax receipts? Falling equity markets and sluggish housing sales may depress CGT and stamp duties. And the oil price shock could hit revenues from North Sea production.

Back in November, the OBR revised up revenues by an astonishing £50billion+ over this Parliament. This now looks a little over-optimistic.

But never let it be said that George Osborne misses an opportunity to scramble out of political danger. He immediately cashed in those higher projected receipts, but in doing so he’s landed himself with very little wriggle room for the forthcoming Budget.

Borrowing is just not falling as fast as forecast. The £78billion deficit should have been cut by £20billion by now but it’s down by just £11billion. So what? Well this is a Chancellor who has given a cast iron guarantee to deliver a surplus by 2019-20. So he cannot afford to turn a blind eye.

All this points towards a Chancellor forced to revisit cuts he thought he wouldn’t need to make. A zombie Budget where unpopular reductions to public services are still very much alive, even though they were supposed to be history. More aggressive cuts, stealthy tax rises, pension changes designed to benefit the Treasury more than the public – all of these are on the cards. 

Is this the Chancellor’s misfortune or was he chancing his luck? As the IFS pointed out at the time, there was only really a 50/50 chance these revenue windfalls were built on solid ground. With growth and productivity still lagging, gloomier market expectations, exports sluggish and both construction and manufacturing barely contributing to additional expansion, it looks as though the Chancellor was just too optimistic, or perhaps too desperate for a short-term political solution. It wouldn’t be the first time that George Osborne has prioritised his own political interests.

There’s no short cut here. Productivity-enhancing public services and infrastructure could and should have been front and centre in that Spending Review. Rebalancing the economy should also have been a feature of new policy in that Autumn Statement, but instead the Chancellor banked on forecast revisions and growth too reliant on the service sector alone. Infrastructure decisions are delayed for short-term politicking. Uncertainty about our EU membership holds back business investment. And while we ought to have a consensus about eradicating the deficit, the excessive rigidity of the Chancellor’s fiscal charter bears down on much-needed capital investment.

So for those who thought that extreme cuts to services, a harsh approach to in-work benefits or punitive tax rises might be a thing of the past, beware the Chancellor whose hubris may force him to revive them after all. 

Chris Leslie is chair of Labour's backbench Treasury committee.