Tom Crone is gone

An unexpected event in the News International crisis.

Tom Crone has left News International. These are words one would never have expected to type. The sudden closure last week of News of the World was a shock; but to those in the small world of media law this is a development of a similar magnitude. One would have expected the ravens to depart the Tower of London before Tom Crone ceased to be the legal manager of News International.

The remarkable thing about Tom Crone is the high regard he is held by all those who deal with him, journalists and lawyers alike. The phrase "well-respected" invariably accompanies his name both in print and private conversations. Notwithstanding the odours of the Sun and the News of the World in particular, and of the legal and tabloid worlds more generally, his reputation indicated that a lawyer can have a good name in a bad job.

Hence the surprise at his departure. It would be wrong to speculate as to the exact circumstances. No one can tell whether it is part of a damage limitation plan, or that there has been an adverse event. His exact involvement in any high-level strategy in respect of phone hacking or in the dealings with the Met might never be fully known: much of his role may (rightly) be cloaked by legal professional privilege. After all, lawyers advise, but it is their clients that decide.

And from one perspective, the circumstances may not matter. There are certain events the significance of which lies in themselves. This is one such event, for this news means there is perhaps only one individual connected with News International whose departure would be even more unthinkable: Rupert Murdoch.

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of New Statesman. He was a contributor to a previous edition of Crone's Law and the Media.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.