Are the Non-Murdoch media now threatening a select committee member?

Some concerning tweets about Louise Mensch MP.

I know Louise Mensch MP slightly. I was at university at the same time and we have some mutual friends. At Freshers' Fayre she tried to sign me up for the "Rock Society" (I manfully resisted, being a Stranglers and Damned fan).

I am certainly not a political supporter of hers, but she is not someone to be under-estimated and she is rightly regarded as being among the more able of the new intake of MPs. And so, against this background, I was rather concerned to see certain tweets last night.

Martin Bright, formerly of this magazine, asked publicly:

Are the media trying to intimidate @LouiseMensch?

Now, why would they do that? Well, as is well known, Mensch asked Rupert Murdoch directly if he had considered resigning at this week's select committee hearing. But I suspect that Martin did not mean anyone at News International.

There has rightly been attention paid to Mensch's incorrect claim that Piers Morgan had openly boasted in some book about phone hacking. I understand she will now retract that statement when Parliament reconvenes. All the same, the fact does remain that Piers Morgan was editor of the Daily Mirror during part of the time covered by the ICO report, "What Price Privacy".

Her substantive point is that hacking and blagging was prevalent throughout the British tabloid press. It is widely believed that the tabloid press is apprehensive that the phone hacking and blagging scandal would spread beyond News International.

Two days after the Select Committee, it was reported that the police had asked for the evidence in the so-called "Motorman" files. If this is correct, then this means newspaper groups other than News International are now in the frame for certain offences.

Mensch tells me that this week she suddenly started to receive a lot of attention from the non-Murdoch tabloid groups. I am told that her office even received a strange call from a newspaper, immediately after the Select Committee hearings ended: the ominous question posed was "Can you confirm you are pregnant?". There have been a range of other press contacts.

Guido Fawkes has now tweeted there are orders to "get Mensch" from the "very top" and there would be a damaging story about her private life this coming Sunday. I do not know if that is correct; but it certainly is not a pleasant prospect for anyone.

In fact this all becoming very odd, and it is also worrying. To her credit, Mensch has decided not to be intimidated by this sudden tabloid interest in her private life, and has chosen to reveal the apparent intimidation to the New Statesman. If this is an intended intimidation exercise, then it would raise the troubling concern that may be some attempt to pressure or discredit a member of a parliamentary select committee.

It will be interesting to see what Sunday brings, and - indeed - what Mensch and the select committee have to do in response.


David Allen Green is legal correspondent for the New Statesman.

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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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.