The phone hacking scandal is a disgrace. And it will all happen again

The media acts as it does because it's the way we like it.

It will happen again. We'll have our debates, enquiries and investigations. People will resign and get sacked and go to jail. And then it will all happen again.

There is a simple reason why the parents of a murdered schoolgirl lived with false hope, and the investigation into their daughter's brutal killing jeopardised. Because that's the way we wanted it. Not just Glenn Mulcaire or, possibly, Rebekah Brooks. All of us.

Oh, it's unfortunate, of course. We feel sympathy for the Dowlers; it would be inhuman not to. But our humanity never actually extended so far as doing anything to prevent it. Doing anything to break the cycle, the synthetic outrage and cover up.

The relationship between politicians, press and police has always been a perverse one. You scratch my back, I'll stab yours. But when push came to shove, and the chips were down, the unholy trinity rallied round to protect their own.

Yes the press have been drunk on power. But only because the politicians kept handing them the bottle and refusing to call last orders. And when anyone complained about their loutish and unruly behaviour, the forces of law and order were on hand to discretely move people on their way.

Tom Watson, likely to be just about the only person to emerge from this sordid episode with his reputation intact, claimed on Newsnight that the inaction of politicians was motivated by fear. They dare not move against the media through trepidation over the personal and professional consequences.

He's wrong. Politicians refused to ring the bell of the last chance saloon because they loved it in there. I know. I spent many happy hours propping up the bar with them.

When Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell were at the height of their powers, which media organisation did the chose to go to war with. News International? No, the BBC. When Damian McBride was compiling his dossier on David Cameron who do you think he was planning to give it to? The Independent?

As soon as Labour got into power we didn't just dance with the devil. We piled into his chauffer-driven limo, grabbed the cigars and the strippers, and went on a decade long bender with him.

We loved that we could use our erstwhile media enemies to "do a number" on our political opponents. We bragged about our contacts and new found press relationships. Mocked the Tories for their laughable efforts to match our prowess at media manipulation.

And you think we didn't know? How our new friends worked. What they were up to. I remember a colleague excitedly regaling with me with the tale of how having planted a story on an errant Tory politician, one of the tabloids was going to track him down. Bribing employees of credit card companies for hotel details. Airlines, to obtain passenger lists. Mobile companies for phone records.

We weren't ignorant of the way the press worked. Or shocked by it. We were titillated by it. Here were the dark arts laid out before us. We had arrived.

And you seriously think those days are now behind us? The Rubicon is finally about to be forded.

By who? David Cameron? The man who had Coulson on his staff and Brooks on his Christmas dinner party list. By Ed Miliband? Who at the start of the year was sending out emails imploring his MPs not to link the BSkyB deal with phone-hacking, and telling them if they'd had their own phones hacked they were on their own and it wasn't a matter for him or the Labour Party.

Trust me. There will be lots of rage and anguish. Much of it will be sincere. But those advertisers will eventually want to sell their products. The police will start to miss their back-handers. And a year out from an election, those News International endorsements are going to look enticing. You think poor Mr and Mrs Dowler are going to be allowed to stand in the way of all that?

The media acts the way it does because it's the way we like it. Politicians, police and press.

And those other co-conspirators. The great British public. Phones are bugged because we want to read what's on them. Police are bribed because we want to hear the stories they have to tell. Politicians acquiesce because despite out strenuous denials, when they tell us how to vote, we listen.

"David Cameron has jumped into the sewer," said Peter Oborne over the Prime Ministers relationship with the Murdoch press. He's right, he has. And we're all in there splashing happily along beside him.

In a democracy, we get the press we deserve. And boy, do we all deserve Rebekah Brooks and Glenn Mulcaire.

Weep for Milly Dowler, her parents and their torment. But hold a tear or two back. Because all this will be happening again.

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Labour’s best general election bet is Keir Starmer

The shadow secretary for Brexit has the heart of a Remainer - but head of a pragmatic politician in Brexit Britain. 

In a different election, the shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer might have been written off as too quiet a man. Instead - as he set out his plans to scrap the Brexit white paper and offer EU citizens reassurance on “Day One” in the grand hall of the Institute of Civil Engineers - the audience burst into spontaneous applause. 

For voters now torn between their loyalty to Labour and Remain, Starmer is a reassuring figure. Although he says he respects the Brexit vote, the former director of public prosecutions is instinctively in favour of collaborating with Europe. He even wedges phrases like “regulatory alignment” into his speeches. When a journalist asked about the practicality of giving EU citizens right to remain before UK citizens abroad have received similar promises, he retorted: “The way you just described it is to use people as bargaining chips… We would not do that.”

He is also clear about the need for Parliament to vote on a Brexit deal in the autumn of 2018, for a transitional agreement to replace the cliff edge, and for membership of the single market and customs union to be back on the table. When pressed on the option of a second referendum, he said: “The whole point of trying to involve Parliament in the process is that when we get to the final vote, Parliament has had its say.” His main argument against a second referendum idea is that it doesn’t compare like with like, if a transitional deal is already in place. For Remainers, that doesn't sound like a blanket veto of #EUref2. 

Could Leave voters in the provinces warm to the London MP for Holborn and St Pancras? The answer seems to be no – The Daily Express, voice of the blue passport brigade, branded his speech “a plot”. But Starmer is at least respectful of the Brexit vote, as it stands. His speech was introduced by Jenny Chapman, MP for Darlington, who berated Westminster for their attitude to Leave voters, and declared: “I would not be standing here if the Labour Party were in anyway attempting to block Brexit.” Yes, Labour supporters who voted Leave may prefer a Brexiteer like Kate Hoey to Starmer,  but he's in the shadow Cabinet and she's on a boat with Nigel Farage. 

Then there’s the fact Starmer has done his homework. His argument is coherent. His speech was peppered with references to “businesses I spoke to”. He has travelled around the country. He accepts that Brexit means changing freedom of movement rules. Unlike Clive Lewis, often talked about as another leadership contender, he did not resign but voted for the Article 50 Bill. He is one of the rare shadow cabinet members before June 2016 who rejoined the front bench. This also matters as far as Labour members are concerned – a March poll found they disapproved of the way Labour has handled Brexit, but remain loyal to Jeremy Corbyn. 

Finally, for those voters who, like Brenda, reacted to news of a general election by complaining "Not ANOTHER one", Starmer has some of the same appeal as Theresa May - he seems competent and grown-up. While EU regulation may be intensely fascinating to Brexiteers and Brussels correspondents, I suspect that by 2019 most of the British public's overwhelming reaction to Brexit will be boredom. Starmer's willingness to step up to the job matters. 

Starmer may not have the grassroots touch of the Labour leader, nor the charisma of backbench dissidents like Chuka Umunna, but the party should make him the de facto face of the campaign.  In the hysterics of a Brexit election, a quiet man may be just what Labour needs.

What did Keir Starmer say? The key points of his speech

  • An immediate guarantee that all EU nationals currently living in the UK will see no change in their legal status as a result of Brexit, while seeking reciprocal measures for UK citizens in the EU. 
  • Replacing the Tories’ Great Repeal Bill with an EU Rights and Protections Bill which fully protects consumer, worker and environmental rights.
  • A replacement White Paper with a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union. 
  • The devolution of any new powers that are transferred back from Brussels should go straight to the relevant devolved body, whether regional government in England or the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Parliament should be fully involved in the Brexit deal, and MPs should be able to vote on the deal in autumn 2018.
  • A commitment to seek to negotiate strong transitional arrangements when leaving the EU and to ensure there is no cliff-edge for the UK economy. 
  • An acceptance that freedom of movement will end with leaving the EU, but a commitment to prioritise jobs and economy in the negotiations.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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