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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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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