The phone-hacking scandal takes a new twist

Tessa Jowell reveals her mobile was hacked 28 times.

After Wednesday's remarkable New York Times investigation into phone-hacking at the News of the World, which suggested that the former editor and now No 10 communications director, Andy Coulson, had "actively encouraged" the practice, come fresh revelations from the Labour MP Tessa Jowell, who says her mobile phone was tapped at least 28 times during the period she served as a cabinet minister in the last government.

Jowell told the Independent:

I know I was tapped 28 times by May 2006 because the police told me. I had a call when I was on holiday in August 2006 from the Met to say that I had been tapped, but they asked me to do nothing except increase the security on my phone. Later, they came back to me and said I wouldn't need to be a witness in this case. I also had a call from Vodafone about improving security.

Meanwhile, Jowell's former cabinet colleague John Prescott intends to seek a judicial review to establish if his phone was hacked while he was in government. Prescott was not satisfied by the results of a Scotland Yard investigation into the affair, which concluded that there was "no evidence" that his phone had been hacked.

Yesterday, Alan Johnson added to the clamour for action, arguing that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constablulary should review the Metropolitan Police's investigation of the case. Such calls are, predictably, being given short shrift by the government. Making a connection between this affair and the case of the Foreign Secretary William Hague, Duncan said last night on BBC Radio 4's Any Questions that "things are getting ramped up in the media based on rumour and innuendo and, as in the William Hague case, I don't think it's acceptable in this case. And unless anybody comes forward with any clear evidence this is not something that should be pursued."

That's certainly the line emanating from No 10 itself. The BBC's Gary O'Donoghue reports that a "very senior source in the government" has insisted to him that Coulson's position safe. "Andy is going nowhere," the source said.

One wonders, though, how long they can hold the line. As my colleague George Eaton argued earlier in the week, "If Coulson did know about the phone-hacking then he's too wicked to be the Tories' spin chief, and if he didn't know then he's too stupid to be the Tories' spin chief."

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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No, Jeremy Corbyn did not refuse to condemn the IRA. Please stop saying he did

Guys, seriously.

Okay, I’ll bite. Someone’s gotta say it, so really might as well be me:

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not, this weekend, refuse to condemn the IRA. And no, his choice of words was not just “and all other forms of racism” all over again.

Can’t wait to read my mentions after this one.

Let’s take the two contentions there in order. The claim that Corbyn refused to condem the IRA relates to his appearance on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a weekly political programme, hosted by Sophy Ridge and broadcast on a Sunday. Don’t say I never teach you anything.)

Here’s how Sky’s website reported that interview:

 

The first paragraph of that story reads:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he refused five times to directly condemn the IRA in an interview with Sky News.

The funny thing is, though, that the third paragraph of that story is this:

He said: “I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has been so widely criticised for refusing to condemn the IRA that people didn’t notice the bit where he specifically said that he condemned the IRA.

Hasn’t he done this before, though? Corbyn’s inability to say he that opposed anti-semitism without appending “and all other forms of racism” was widely – and, to my mind, rightly – criticised. These were weasel words, people argued: an attempt to deflect from a narrow subject where the hard left has often been in the wrong, to a broader one where it wasn’t.

Well, that pissed me off too: an inability to say simply “I oppose anti-semitism” made it look like he did not really think anti-semitism was that big a problem, an impression not relieved by, well, take your pick.

But no, to my mind, this....

“I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

...is, despite its obvious structural similarities, not the same thing.

That’s because the “all other forms of racism thing” is an attempt to distract by bringing in something un-related. It implies that you can’t possibly be soft on anti-semitism if you were tough on Islamophobia or apartheid, and experience shows that simply isn’t true.

But loyalist bombing were not unrelated to IRA ones: they’re very related indeed. There really were atrocities committed on both sides of the Troubles, and while the fatalities were not numerically balanced, neither were they orders of magnitude apart.

As a result, specifically condemning both sides as Corbyn did seems like an entirely reasonable position to take. Far creepier, indeed, is to minimise one set of atrocities to score political points about something else entirely.

The point I’m making here isn’t really about Corbyn at all. Historically, his position on Northern Ireland has been pro-Republican, rather than pro-peace, and I’d be lying if I said I was entirely comfortable with that.

No, the point I’m making is about the media, and its bias against Labour. Whatever he may have said in the past, whatever may be written on his heart, yesterday morning Jeremy Corbyn condemned IRA bombings. This was the correct thing to do. His words were nonetheless reported as “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn IRA”.

I mean, I don’t generally hold with blaming the mainstream media for politicians’ failures, but it’s a bit rum isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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