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.
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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