Who's who on the Select Committee

Ten MPs will get the opportunity to grill the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks later today. But who are t

Rupert Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch will all face the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee from 2.30pm today. The trio are set to answer questions relating to the phone hacking that occurred at News International throughout the 2000s. Sitting opposite them will be ten MPs. Who are they?

John Whittingdale

Tory MP John Whittingdale heads up the Commons select committee in charge of handling the phone-hacking scandal. The chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport committee has stated that that in seeking to uncover the truth, he hopes that the committee will avoid behaving like a "lynch mob". Whittingdale is reported to be an old acquaintance of Les Hinton, recently resigned as CEO of Dow Jones and former News International chairman.

Tom Watson

The Labour MP has been a consistent thorn in the side of News International since re-joining the backbenches in 2009. Watson led what was at times a one-man crusade to keep the issue of phone-hacking alive in parliament. He is possibly the most forthright member of the Committee when it comes to the media in the UK. In 2010, Watson hit out at "the media barons", who he felt had undue influence in parliament. "They are untouchable. They laugh at the law. They sneer at Parliament. They have the power to hurt us, and they do, with gusto and precision, with joy and criminality." Suffice to say, Watson will enjoy his moment against the Murdochs.

Louise Mensch

The chick-lit author and Conservative MP for Corby was elected in 2010. Like John Whittingdale, although broadly loyal to the government, Mensch has willingly asked Jeremy Hunt awkward questions on phone-hacking.

Alan Keen

The relatively non-descript backbencher is a long-standing member of the committee. Alan Keen got into hot water over his expenses in 2009 and was made to repay £1,500. Many MPs felt hard done by the way the expenses scandal was reported; Keen will no doubt enjoy eviscerating the Murdochs over their scandal.

Dr Therese Coffey

Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, Dr Thérèse Coffey states on her official parliamentary website that the phone-hacking scandal is a matter of "huge importance" and that the Murdochs will face "some robust questioning". On her personal website, Coffey mentions very little of the scandal, simply commenting that "a week is a long time in politics".

Damian Collins

Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hythe, writes plainly on his website that phone-hacking and the use of the information gathered for personal gain "is not only morally wrong but also illegal". While seemingly more accepting of the idea that hacking might be done to celebrities, he states that it is "disgusting" that such an act was carried out on victims of murder and terrorism.

Philip Davies

Referring to the inquiry into press standards, libel and privacy held two years ago, when News International came before the Commons Select Committee, Tory MP for Shipley Philip Davies has drawn a clear link with that case and the current "catastrophic" events taking place: "We put in our report then that it was 'inconceivable' that Clive Goodman was the only one involved but what we didnt' appreciate was the severity of what was allegedly going on."

Paul Farrelly

MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme Paul Farrelly gave a statement at the start of 2011 when the news came out that Paul Gascoigne was to sue the News of the World over phone-hacking allegations. Farrelly criticised the Met, arguing that changes in the way hacking is now dealt with makes it harder for suspected victims to have their case examined: "we found great fault with the police investigation and to that we can add the conduct of the Crown Prosecution Service, which simply rubber stamps the Met's totally inadequate handling of the affair".

Jim Sheridan

The Scot has been Labour MP for Paisley since 2001. Like Keen, Sheridan was derided in the Telegraph over his expenses. Sheridan summed up how he will approach how he will approach the committee in a radio interview this morning: "I like to know what kind of relationship [Murdoch has] had with senior politicians, what influence does he think he has had ... What it won't be today, as some of the leading commentators were suggesting that it will be, [is] some sort of witch-hunt of the MPs against the press. That is certainly not what it's about, we will be asking in a polite way, robust questions."

Adrian Sanders

Aside from Tom Watson, Adrian Sanders has been the most out-spoken committee member in recent days. On Brooks arrest, the MP for Torbay said: "It's convenient. In whose interest was it for this arrest to take place before Tuesday? Because if it does impede what we can ask, that's not going to go down well with my fellow committee members."

For instant analysis of the hearing, keep an eye on the Staggers and follow Samira Shackle and Duncan Robinson on Twitter.

David Young
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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide