Political sketch: "Yes he Cam!"

PM dons his best PR survival suit for Leveson.

 

It was just as well that Harry Redknapp was given the boot by Spurs late on Wednesday night or there would have been nothing to think about during David Cameron’s appearance at the Leveson inquiry.

So much drama had been promised from the appearance by the Prime Minister at the Royal Courts of Justice, just down the road from the Palace of Varieties where he usually treads the boards.

Dave had got up early and the Skycopter even earlier as befitted the day when the PM would tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth from the dock which has featured everybody who is anybody - and more than several nobodys - since Leveson emerged onto the political stage seven months ago.

So dramatic was the event that the PM had apparently spent hours being prepared by his best friend and silent partner in the chairmanship of the Conservative Party, Andrew Feldman.

The aptly enobled Baron Feldman of Elstree, home of the Muppet Show and Eastenders, played the part of chief interrogator Robert Jay as Dave learned his lines and practiced his truths.

Jay’s technique has been to invite those unlucky enough to raise his eyebrows to dig a large hole, lie down in it and have buckets of smelly stuff poured on their heads.

In anticipation of a great day out tricoteuse had been booked, tumbrils polished and blades sharpened for the appearance and  evisceration of Jay’s latest and most important target.

And indeed the PM looked suitably nervous as he took his place in the dock where so many have faltered before.

Having set up this public inquiry into the press he was quick to outline his first main theme which was that newspapers weren’t that important anyway and it was TV, conveniently not on trial, where the main power lay.

Mr Jay took us on a tour of the myriad of documents which have marked most of the last seven months and it was an hour before he got to the B word and a further 55 minutes before the C one.

Yes, he was pally with Rebekah Brooks, he confirmed to an already indifferent audience who cheered up only briefly with the revelation of a previously undisclosed text from the chief executive of News International to the Prime Minister so wonderful in its awfulness that it must be quoted in full.

I am so rooting for you tomorrow not just as proud friend but because professional we're definitely in this together!

said Mrs Brooks, new wife of another Cameron school BF Charlie, sent on the eve of his speech to the Tory Party Conference and a week after the Sun had declared itself for him.

"Speech of your life? Yes he Cam!" she ended.

As Dave slightly squirmed over this revelation Jay moved on to his relations with the Murdochs but now the OM seemed to be settling more comfortably into the well-oiled PR survival suit he wears on these occasions.

Yes, he’d met the Murdochs senior and junior but it was all above board and anyway Rupert was more interested in Dave’s views on world economic matters than little businesses like BSkyB.

It was 11.55 when the C word Coulson finally came up and the audience sat up - in some cases woke up - as a surprisingly unenthusiastic Jay questioned him on how he got the job of Tory spin doctor.

I did ask him about phone hacking, said Dave, and he told me he knew nothing about it. Indeed, said the PM, Coulson told him more than once - not to mention Commons committees, Cameron aides and the Press Complaints Commission, that he knew nothing about it.

“This has come back to haunt both him and me," said the PM, adding a phrase to political history.

By now he was beginning to realise he was off the hook and took time out to crack a few jokes with Lord Leveson clearly happy to chat with the man who gave him the gig in the first place.

“I’m sorry I’ve given you this hot potato," he told Lord L with as much sincerity as he had remembered to bring with him.

“I don’t think you sound sorry for giving it to me at all," said the jovial judge.

By now Dave was positively buoyant and Jay positively bored as if even he realized the best days of his inquiry life were now over.

A few disinterested inquiries into the PM’s thoughts for the future followed before Dave and Lord L swapped a few more funnies and the PM went home for his tea.

 

 
David Cameron at Leveson: another jolly at the Courts. Photo: Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital