Harman raises the pressure on Morgan

Labour deputy leader says Piers Morgan has "questions that he needs to answer" about phone hacking.

Until today, Labour had largely avoided raising the allegations of phone hacking against Piers Morgan, who, as editor of the Daily Mirror, was one of the party's biggest cheerleaders on Fleet Street. But that's all changed this morning with the intervention of Harriet Harman. Following Heather Mills's claim that a senior Mirror Group journalist admitted hacking voicemails left for her by Paul McCartney, the party's deputy leader has said:

It's not good enough for Piers Morgan just to say he's always stayed within the law. There are questions about what happened with Heather Mills' phone messages that he needs to answer. The public rightly expects that we will get to the bottom of phone hacking. That's why it is so important that the police investigation looks at all the evidence and leaves no stone unturned. And it is why we insisted on a full police investigation and the judicial inquiry having the powers and broad remit to get to the bottom of illegal practices in our media.

The questions, in this case, revolve around the fact that the message Mills referred to appears to be identical to that Morgan later admitted listening to. "At one stage I was played a tape of a message Paul had left for Heather on her mobile phone," he wrote in a 2006 article for the Daily Mail. He added: "It was heartbreaking. The couple had clearly had a tiff, Heather had fled to India, and Paul was pleading with her to come back. He sounded lonely, miserable and desperate, and even sang We Can Work It Out into the answerphone."

As a result, there is growing pressure on the CNN host to return from the US and face questioning by Parliament. Tory MP Therese Coffey told Newsnight last night: "I just hope that the police take the evidence and go with it and if Mr Morgan wants to come back to the UK and help them with their inquiries, and I don't mean being arrested in any way, I'm sure he can add more light... I think it would help everybody, including himself and this investigation, if he was able to say more about why he wrote what he did in 2006." But culture select committee chairman John Whittingdale, who is focused on whether MPs were misled by James Murdoch, has said the committee has no plans to summon Morgan.

Morgan has already attempted to dismiss Mills as an unreliable witness, highlighting the fact that a judge branded her "inconsistent and inaccurate"during her divorce from McCartney. But with Rio Ferdinand and Ulrika Jonsson also alleging that their phones were hacked by the Mirror Group, Mills is far from the only foe he faces.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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