PMQs sketch: hypocrisy is the name of the game

Until this scandal, shaking Murdoch's hand was the ambition of any aspiring PM. Now they want to sha

If hypocrisy had a smell it could have been bottled and sold by the gallon from the House of Commons shop today. It might have gone down well with the slices of cold revenge and chips that were being served on the MPs' lunchtime menu.

Many thought this day would never come. Prime Minister Dave had just hoped it never would. Could it really be just three weeks ago that he and Ed and others had taken Rupert's shilling, or at least his champagne and canapés, at the News International Summer Party? Was this the one they flew across oceans and delayed holidays to meet? Could this really be the same Rupert none of them had really known, none of them had really liked and certainly none of them wanted anything more to do with? Yes, it can be revealed: it is the same rascal. Thus the stage was set for a sight as rare in British politics as a nipple-free Sun: cross-party agreement on a plan to get him.

It was an exciting occasion anyway, because it marked the last Prime Ministers Questions before the long vacation. MPs will disappear next week until October, apart from a few days in September recently written into the script in case the electorate get the hump.

So it was that Dave entered the lion's den with the look of a man who knew the game was up and a thrashing was about to be administered. He was flanked by best friend and spare back-bone George, grim-faced at the trials to come, and his loyal deputy Nick, his annual sojourn to Spain clearly on his mind but with the demeanour of someone who at last had found himself on the right side...Ed Milliband's.

When Ed stood up, the cheering was so loud that observers thought someone else had come into the chamber. Gone was Ed the Unready, and in his place the new, improved, almost unrecognisable Ed -- The Leader of the Labour Party version. The last seven days have achieved for him what the last 11 months did not, and you could see it writ large on his face.

You knew Dave was in for it when Ed began by inviting the Prime Minister to agree his neighbor and dining friend Rebekah Brooks should quit as Rupert's presence-on-earth at News International. And to agree that Rupert should abandon plans to take over BSkyB.

Dave, who has changed his tune so much in recent days that he could form his own choir ,got so flustered that he said Rebekah had already resigned. But everyone knew that this was just the preamble and that Ed has shown recently that he is finally learning the lessons of being a leader: once your opponent is down, keep kicking him.

George, the Chancellor, who apparently holds several degrees in bullying, could only whisper sweet nothings into the battered ear of his best friend as Ed, egged on by those on his own side who would happily have dumped him last month, turned, as Dave knew he would, to the unanswerable Andy question.

It will be a set text in political lectures for years to come. Was the Prime Minister of the day right to employ as his conduit to the nation's thinking someone who had made a career of examining the bedclothes of famous people? Further, why had he ignored the warnings of a queue of people, apparently long enough to line Whitehall, who believed the appointment scored 15 on the 1 to 10 scale of unfortunate decisions.

Had he been told Andy was not necessarily kosher asked Ed, confident that the PM could only squirm on the hook. The House came down, as Sir Bruce would say, as Dave denied anyone had given him good reason why the former editor of the News of the World, who resigned after a member of his staff was jailed for phone-hacking and denied he knew anything about it, should not then have been appointed his mouthpiece in Number 10.

Unanimity, the watchword at the start of the day, had lasted all of four minutes in the House of Commons. (Speaker Bercow, slightly subdued since his discovery last week that he is about to go on loan to Afghanistan, almost bounced out of his box at the volume of end of term noise.)

Of course what Dave could not say is that Andy also got the job because he was pals with, or at least knew the phone number of he whose name had ostensibly united them all in the chamber that day -- the Sun King himself, Rupert Murdoch.

Ed himself squirmed a little when Dave pointed out that his new mouthpiece Tom Baldwin also worked for Rupert for many years on the Times. But of course there now exists a new kind of UK political time: AM and PM. Ante Murdoch and Post Murdoch. AM time ended when the depth of the News of the World crisis became clear. Until then shaking Rupert warmly by the hand was the ambition of any politician hoping to become Prime Minister. PM time means the same people queuing up to shake him warmly by the throat.

Rupert has a long reach and a long memory, and this is a multi-billion pound deal. There are no rather rotund ladies singing yet. Watch this space.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions.

 

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

Photo: Getty Images
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Our treatment of today's refugees harks back to Europe's darkest hour

We mustn't forget the lessons of the Second World War in the face of today's refugee crisis, says Molly Scott Cato.

In the 1930s, thousands of persecuted people fled Europe. Our own press ignominiously reported these as "Stateless Jews pouring into this country" and various records exist from that time of public officials reassuring readers that no such thing would be allowed under their watch.

With the benefit of historical hindsight we now know what fate awaited many of those Jews who were turned away from sanctuary. Quite rightly, we now express horror about the Holocaust, an iconic example of the most shocking event of human history, and pledge ourselves to stop anything like it happening again. 

Yet as Europe faces its worst refugee crisis since the Second World War we are witnessing a deafening cacophony of xenophobic voices in response to people fleeing their own present-day horror. We must therefore reflect on whether there is an uncomfortable parallel in the language being used to describe those seeking asylum today and the language used to describe Jews seeking refuge in the 1930s.

Our response to the current refugee crisis suggests we feel fearful and threatened by the mass movement of desperate people; fearful not just of sharing what we have but also of the sense of disorganisation and chaos. Does the fact that these refugees are from Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, and so not part of our continent, provide an excuse to allow them to be bombed at home or drowned during their desperate journey to safety?

We are not helped by the poorly informed public debate which—perhaps intentionally—conflates three quite different movements of people: free movement within the EU, irregular or unauthorised migration and the plight of the Middle Eastern refugees. While our misguided foreign policy and unwillingness to tackle change may give us a moral responsibility for those fleeing famine and conflict, our responsibility towards refugees from war zones is clear under international law.

Due to our commitments to the UN Refugee Convention, the vast majority of Syrian refugees who reach our territory are given asylum but the UK has taken fewer Syrian refugees than many other European countries. While Germany admitted around 41,000 asylum-seekers in 2014 alone, the UK has taken in fewer than 7000.

The problem is that any sense of compassion we feel conflicts with our perception of the economic constraints we face. In spite of being the fifth largest economy in the world we feel poor and austerity makes us feel insecure. However, when actually confronted with people in crisis our humanity can come to the fore. A friend who spent her holiday in Greece told me that she saw local people who are themselves facing real poverty sharing what they had with the thousands of refugees arriving from Turkey.

A straightforward response to the growing sense of global crisis would be to restore the authority of the UN in managing global conflict, a role fatally undermined by Tony Blair's decision to go to war in Iraq. Our role should be to support UN efforts in bringing about strong governments in the region, not taking the misguided ‘coalition of the willing’ route and running foreign policy based on self-interest and driven by the demands of the oil and arms industries.

We also need EU policy-makers to show leadership in terms of solidarity: to co-operate over the acceptance of refugees and finding them safe routes into asylum, something the European Greens have consistently argued for. The EU Commission and Parliament are in clear agreement about the need for fixed quotas for member states, a plan that is being jeopardised by national government’s responding to right-wing rather than compassionate forces in their own countries.

Refugees from war-torn countries of the Middle East need asylum on a temporary basis, until the countries they call home can re-establish security and guarantee freedom from oppression.

The responsibility of protecting refugees is not being shared fairly and I would appeal to the British people to recall our proud history of offering asylum. Without the benefit of mass media, the excuse of ignorance that can help to explain our failure to act in the 1930s is not available today. We must not repeat the mistakes of that time in the context of today’s crisis, mistakes which led to the deaths of so many Jews in the Nazi death camps. 

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the South West of England.

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the southwest of England, elected in May 2014. She has published widely, particularly on issues related to green economics. Molly was formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton.