Police-Murdoch relationship is the real issue here

John Prescott targets Andy Hayman, the Met and News International

The British press, playing catch up to the New York Times, is understandably focused on the fate of Andy Coulson, David Cameron's communications chief, when it comes to the story of News of the World phone tapping. But the really interesting element of the NYT investigation is the very close relationship between the Met and News International. A mutually beneficial pattern is described, when the NotW gets a crime scoop, makes a show of handing the details to the police, and then writes up a fawning account of the police operation the following week.

As it happens, I just bumped into John Prescott in the House of Lords. He was pointing out that the key to this story for him is less Coulson's future and much more that relationship between the police and the Murdoch outlets. And he singled out Andy Hayman -- the former head of counter-terrorism and intelligence at the Met who was involved in covering up the circumstances surrounding the death of Jean Charles de Menezes -- saying he should have been warning ministers about the phone tapping. He compared, too, the enthusiasm with which the Met persued Tony Blair's Downing Street over the honours scandal, with the apparently slow start to a proper investigation of the NotW claims.

This is a key passage from the NYT investigation:

Scotland Yard also had a symbiotic relationship with News of the World. The police sometimes built high-profile cases out of the paper's exclusives, and News of the World reciprocated with fawning stories of arrests.

Within days of the raids, several senior detectives said they began feeling internal pressure. One senior investigator said he was approached by Chris Webb, from the department's press office, who was "waving his arms up in the air, saying, 'Wait a minute -- let's talk about this.' " The investigator, who has since left Scotland Yard, added that Webb stressed the department's "long-term relationship with News International."

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

0800 7318496