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.

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.