The Times breaks its silence

The paper has so far kept a safe distance from the storm engulfing its sister title.

"There is no doubt but that journalists are now in their version of the MP's expenses scandal." These are the opening lines of an editorial in today's Times calling for a serious and thorough investigation into the News of the World hacking scandal.

Also owned by Rupert Murdoch's News International, The Times has thus far deafeningly quiet about the practices of those working for News of the World.

"Before today, The Times, which, like the News of the World, is owned by News International, has taken the view that it ought not to comment on the issue of phone hacking."

Other News International titles have similarly failed to provide full coverage of the story, such as yesterday's Sun, which hid references to NoW's entanglement with Milly Dowler in a tiny column on page 2.

Now The Times has broken its silence, and added its voice to the widespread condemnation of the NoW:

"But anyone who has serious faith in the public purpose of journalism has to record his or her dissent from the behaviour that has now been alleged. Anyone who believes in the nobility of the trade of reporting the truth, the better to inform the readers, and anyone who believes in the contribution of vibrant comment to a raucous and well-informed democracy, has to be clear when a line has been crossed."

It also called for a thorough investigation into the case, proclaiming that "over and above the internal inquiry that will be conducted at News International, this matter now requires the most rigorous possible police inquiry".

But the paper shied away from condemning its sister title outright, stressing the number of unanswered questions still to be addressed:

"There is much that we still need to know. Were journalists at the News of the World involved or just their consultant Glenn Mulcaire? Was Milly Dowler's phone actually hacked or is it simply the case that Mulcaire had obtained her number? Did the News of the World and Mulcaire do the same in the case of the Soham victims and, if so, when? And given the reports of phone hacking by other national newspapers, how much of this was exception and how much, across the industry, the rule?"

Emanuelle Degli Esposti is the editor and founder of The Arab Review, an online journal covering arts and culture in the Arab world. She also works as a freelance journalist specialising in the politics of the Middle East.

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Could Labour lose the Oldham by-election?

Sources warn defeat is not unthinkable but the party's ground campaign believe they will hold on. 

As shadow cabinet members argue in public over Labour's position on Syria and John McDonnell defends his Mao moment, it has been easy to forget that the party next week faces its first election test since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. On paper, Oldham West and Royton should be a straightforward win. Michael Meacher, whose death last month triggered the by-election, held the seat with a majority of 14,738 just seven months ago. The party opted for an early pre-Christmas poll, giving second-placed Ukip less time to gain momentum, and selected the respected Oldham council leader Jim McMahon as its candidate. 

But in recent weeks Labour sources have become ever more anxious. Shadow cabinet members returning from campaigning report that Corbyn has gone down "very badly" with voters, with his original comments on shoot-to-kill particularly toxic. Most MPs expect the party's majority to lie within the 1,000-2,000 range. But one insider told me that the party's majority would likely fall into the hundreds ("I'd be thrilled with 2,000") and warned that defeat was far from unthinkable. The fear is that low turnout and defections to Ukip could allow the Farageists to sneak a win. MPs are further troubled by the likelihood that the contest will take place on the same day as the Syria vote (Thursday), which will badly divide Labour. 

The party's ground campaign, however, "aren't in panic mode", I'm told, with data showing them on course to hold the seat with a sharply reduced majority. As Tim noted in his recent report from the seat, unlike Heywood and Middleton, where Ukip finished just 617 votes behind Labour in a 2014 by-election, Oldham has a significant Asian population (accounting for 26.5 per cent of the total), which is largely hostile to Ukip and likely to remain loyal to Labour. 

Expectations are now so low that a win alone will be celebrated. But expect Corbyn's opponents to point out that working class Ukip voters were among the groups the Labour leader was supposed to attract. They are likely to credit McMahon with the victory and argue that the party held the seat in spite of Corbyn, rather than because of him. Ukip have sought to turn the contest into a referendum on the Labour leader's patriotism but McMahon replied: "My grandfather served in the army, my father and my partner’s fathers were in the Territorial Army. I raised money to restore my local cenotaph. On 18 December I will be going with pride to London to collect my OBE from the Queen and bring it back to Oldham as a local boy done good. If they want to pick a fight on patriotism, bring it on."  "If we had any other candidate we'd have been in enormous trouble," one shadow minister concluded. 

Of Corbyn, who cancelled a visit to the seat today, one source said: "I don't think Jeremy himself spends any time thinking about it, he doesn't think that electoral outcomes at this stage touch him somehow."  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.