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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I am special and I am worthless: inside the mind of a narcissist

There's been a lot of discussion about narcissists this week. But what does the term actually mean?

Since the rise of Donald Trump, the term “narcissistic” has been cropping up with great regularity in certain sections of the media, including the pages of this journal. I wouldn’t want to comment about an individual I’ve never met, but I thought it would be interesting to look at the troubling psychological health problem of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

People with NPD (which is estimated to affect about 1 per cent of the population) have a characteristic set of personality traits. First, they have a deeply held sense of specialness and entitlement. Male NPD sufferers frequently present as highly egotistical, with an unshakeable sense of their superiority and importance; female sufferers commonly present as eternal victims on whom the world repeatedly inflicts terrible injustices. In both cases, the affected person believes he or she is deserving of privileged treatment, and expects it as a right from those around them.

Second, NPD sufferers have little or no capacity for empathy, and usually relate to other people as objects (as opposed to thinking, feeling beings) whose sole function is to meet the narcissist’s need for special treatment and admiration – known as “supply”. In order to recruit supply, NPD sufferers become highly skilled at manipulating people’s perceptions of them, acting out what is called a “false self” – the glittering high achiever, the indefatigable do-gooder, the pitiable victim.

The third characteristic is termed “splitting”, where the world is experienced in terms of two rigid categories – either Good or Bad – with no areas of grey. As long as others are meeting the narcissist’s need for supply, they are Good, and they find themselves idealised and showered with reciprocal positive affirmation – a process called “love-bombing”. However, if someone criticises or questions the narcissist’s false self, that person becomes Bad, and is subjected to implacable hostility.

It is not known for certain what triggers the disorder. There is likely to be a genetic component, but in many cases early life experiences are the primary cause. Narcissism is a natural phase of child development (as the parents of many teenagers will testify) and its persistence as adult NPD frequently reflects chronic trauma during childhood. Paradoxically for a condition that often manifests as apparent egotism, all NPD sufferers have virtually non-existent self-esteem. This may arise from ongoing emotional neglect on the part of parents or caregivers, or from sustained psychological or sexual abuse.

The common factor is a failure in the development of a healthy sense of self-worth. It is likely that narcissism becomes entrenched as a defence against the deep-seated shame associated with these experiences of being unworthy and valueless.

When surrounded by supply, the NPD sufferer can anaesthetise this horrible sense of shame with the waves of positive regard washing over them. Equally, when another person destabilises that supply (by criticising or questioning the narcissist’s false self) this is highly threatening, and the NPD sufferer will go to practically any lengths to prevent a destabiliser adversely influencing other people’s perceptions of the narcissist.

One of the many tragic aspects of NPD is the invariable lack of insight. A narcissist’s experience of the world is essentially: “I am special; some people love me for this, and are Good; some people hate me for it, and are Bad.” If people with NPD do present to health services, it is usually because of the negative impacts Bad people are having on their life, rather than because they are able to recognise that they have a psychological health problem.

Far more commonly, health professionals end up helping those who have had the misfortune to enter into a supply relationship with an NPD sufferer. Narcissism is one of the most frequent factors in intimate partner and child abuse, as well as workplace bullying. The narcissist depends on the positive affirmation of others to neutralise their own sense of unworthiness. They use others to shore themselves up, and lash out at those who threaten this precarious balance. And they leave a trail of damaged people in their wake. 

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times