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.

Photo: Getty
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Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn sitting down with President Bernie Sanders no longer sounds so outlandish

Both men have a certain authenticity and unpretentiousness that their rivals lack.

Unlike many of us, Bernie Sanders never doubted Jeremy Corbyn. The week before the general election, the independent US senator from Vermont was addressing a crowd of progressive voters in Brighton during a whirlwind tour of the UK. An audience member asked him what advice he might have for the leader of the Labour Party. “I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn needs my advice,” Sanders replied. “I think he’s doing quite well.”

The week after the election, a delighted Sanders invoked Corbyn’s election performance in a New York Times op-ed. “The British elections should be a lesson for the Democratic Party,” he wrote, urging the Democrats to stop holding on to an “overly cautious, centrist ideology” and explaining how “momentum shifted to Labour after it released a very progressive manifesto that generated much enthusiasm among young people and workers”.

Sanders and his growing movement in the United States offered more than mere rhetorical support for Corbyn.

With the help of former members of the senator’s presidential campaign team, Momentum – the grass-roots organisation set up to support and defend Corbyn in 2015 – ran 33 training sessions across the UK, preparing thousands of Labour activists.

Momentum’s national organiser Emma Rees says that the Sanders people made a “significant contribution” to the Labour campaign with their emphasis “on having empathetic conversations that focused on the issues the voter cared about, and actually trying to persuade voters on the doorstep rather than just collecting data”.

“In the final stage, I recruited a bunch of former Bernie volunteers from around [the United States] to . . . help get out a last [get out the vote] texting assignment,” recalls Claire Sandberg, who was the digital organising director for Sanders and spent the 2017 election campaign working with Momentum in the UK. “It was an amazing thing to see them volunteering . . . while we were all asleep the night before election day.”

Is it really surprising that Sanders supporters, thousands of miles away, would want to volunteer for Corbyn? Both men are mavericks; both have a certain authenticity and unpretentiousness that their rivals lack; both, in the words of Emma Rees, “have inspired tens of thousands of people to participate in the political process and to realise their collective power” and they want “to transform society in the interests of ordinary people”. Perhaps above all else, both men have proved that left populism can win millions of votes.

According to the latest polls, if another election were held in the UK tomorrow, Corbyn would be the winner. Sanders, however, has a much higher mountain to climb in the US and faces at least three obstacles that the “British Bernie” does not.

First, Sanders leads a growing grass-roots movement but does not have the support of a party machine and infrastructure.

Corbyn may have been a backbench rebel who voted against his party whip more than 500 times before becoming party leader, but he is a lifelong Labour member.

Sanders, on the other hand, is the longest-serving independent politician in US congressional history. He declared himself a Democrat in 2015 only in order to seek the party’s presidential nomination and promptly declared himself an independent again after he was defeated by Hillary Clinton last summer.

Such behaviour has allowed establishment Democrats to portray him (wrongly) as an opportunist, an interloper who is using the Democratic Party as a vehicle for his own benefit in a country where third-party candidacies cannot succeed.

Second, Sanders has to confront an even more hostile and sceptical media than Corbyn must. Under US law, Fox News is under no obligation to be “fair and balanced” towards Sanders – nor is CNN, for that matter.

Thanks to the UK rules on broadcaster impartiality, however, Corbyn was “able to speak directly to the voters who still get their news from TV instead of the internet”, Sandberg notes. “In contrast, Bernie was completely and totally shut out by broadcast media in the US, which considered his campaign totally irrelevant.”

Third, Sanders failed to connect with minority groups, and especially with African Americans, whereas black and Asian British voters flocked to Corbyn – a veteran campaigner for the anti-racism movement.

Two out of every three ethnic-minority voters voted Labour on 8 June. “Bernie would’ve won [the Democratic nomination] if he’d had a message that resonated with 50 per cent – just 50 per cent – of black voters, because Hillary got upwards of 90 per cent in many states,” the activist and journalist Naomi Klein, who is a supporter of both Sanders and Corbyn, told me in a recent interview for my al-Jazeera English show, UpFront, which will air later this month.

Nevertheless, she is confident that Sanders can learn lessons from his own campaign for the 2016 Democratic nomination, and “build a winning coalition” next time which ties together the narratives of financial, racial and gender inequality.

Just as it was a mistake to write off Jeremy Corbyn, it would be wrong to dismiss Bernie Sanders.

Despite media bias, and even though he doesn’t have a party machine behind him, Sanders today is still the most popular politician in the United States. And so this may be only the beginning of a new, transatlantic partnership between the two self-declared socialists. Those of us on the left who grew up watching Reagan and Thatcher, then Clinton and Blair, then Bush and Blair, may wish to pinch ourselves to check we’re not dreaming.

“I think by 2021,” Sandberg says, “we may see Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn sitting down with President Bernie Sanders.”

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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