Political sketch: No respect for the Murdoch family

James Murdoch's second stint in front of the Culture committee.

His face bore the look of someone who had sat down suddenly on something unexpected and possibly sharp. His voice seemed only to confirm this.

We were to discover later that this was not James Murdoch in front of us but a Mafia boss. Unfortunately he sounded more like Kermit than Michael Corleone. This was going to be it .The unmasking of the man who would be king when Rupert finally moves on to his take-over of the celestial heights.

As befits the next ruler of the universe - and someone who intends to keep his personal contact with Plod of the Yard at some distance - Murdoch minor arrived for his latest confrontation with the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee of the House of Commons with a phalanx of minders and lawyers.

Each of them, including James, had been issued with a poppy, leaving some of the Americans on the team with the slightly nervous look of those who were not sure if they had been asked to pin a target to their lapels.

James was here to answer charges that he had only been adjacent to the truth on his last visit to Westminster, best remembered for his dad getting a pie in the face and his step-mum displaying a formidable left hook.

But he was family-less as he tried yet again to prove he was the Diggers true son and heir, worthy of continuing to run the global enterprise that is News Group/International/Murdoch/Millions. The trouble with the plan to get him was that it depended on the members of the Committee who apparently have a quaint system of never agreeing in advance who is going to ask what.

Their main man was always going to be Labour MP Tom Watson who took on the Empire even when it was still popular and has since carved out a career on the back of his bravery. So you knew it was going to be serious when Tom Watson let it be known he'd had a "late, late night " playing Portal 2 and an "early, early morning" listening to the Clash on full blast.

The tone was set when Tom, having wished his new best friend James a good morning, asked him if he recently been arrested or bailed. When James demurred Tom set off on the long path to prove why either if not both of the above moves should be adopted asap by the authorities.

But the younger Murdoch had clearly not wasted his time since his last appearance and rolled out the answers that made it clear that it was not him but several other people, particularly long-time News of the World legal expert Tom Crone and the last Editor of the NoW Colin Myler whose memories should be further examined.

Indeed James, whose own memory seems to have taken several unplanned holidays in recent years, was happy to rest on his record of frankness and honesty over the whole issue. Not to mention the fact that so far there is no paper trail telling another story.

With Joe Strummer no doubt belting away in the back of his brain, Tom religiously asked all the questions everyone had told him he should and James religiously trotted out the answers he had learned.

Getting nowhere fast Tom then turned the question the minor Murdoch had not prepared an answer to:

"Are you familiar with the term mafia", he asked.

The minders sat forward, the committee sat forward even James sat forward. Was Tom going to reveal some phone-hacking of his own?

Have you heard the term "omerta", he added.

"I am not familiar with such things ", said James in a quote that could be drawn from Godfather 6-had there been one.

"You must be the first mafia boss in history who did not know he was running a criminal enterprise", said Tom.

"Mr Watson, that is inappropriate", said James.

With beds to be checked for horses heads Tom may not have got the chance to read the Sky News strapline running during the clash with a small"c". It said Scotland Yard's hacking squad had 300 million, repeat 300 million, News International emails to look at.

If that is even half true this one will run and run and run and run and run....

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

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Trident is dangerous – and not for the reasons you think

Fixating on Trident is like replacing the guest bathroom while your own toilet flush doesn't work. 

Backing Trident is supposed to make a politician look hard, realistic and committed to Britain’s long history of military defence.That’s why the Tories delighted in holding a debate on renewing the nuclear weapons system in June 2016.

But it was the Tory Prime Minister who floundered this weekend, after it emerged that three weeks before that debate, an unarmed Trident missile misfired - and veered off towards the United States instead of Africa. Downing Street confirmed May knew about the error before the parliamentary debate. 

Trident critics have mobilised. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, called the revelation “serious”. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a longstanding opponent of nuclear weapons, said the error was “pretty catastrophic”. 

The idea of a rogue nuclear missile heading for the White House may have fuelled the disarmament movement. But even if you enjoy the game of nuclear poker, fixating on Trident is dangerous. Because while MPs rehearse the same old Cold War arguments, the rest of the world has moved on. 

Every hour debating Trident is an hour not spent debating cyber warfare. As Peter Pomerantsev prophetically wrote in April 2015, Russian military theory has in recent years assumed that it would not be possible to match the West militarily, but wars can be won in the “psychosphere”, through misinformation.

Since the Russian cyber attacks during the US election, few can doubt this strategy is paying off - and that our defence systems have a long way to catch up. As shadow Defence secretary, Emily Thornberry described this as “the crucial test” of the 21st century. The government has pledged £1.9bn in cyber security defences over the next five years, but will that be enough? Nerds in a back room are not as thrilling as nuclear submarines, but how they are deployed matters too.

Secondly, there is the cost. Even if you back the idea of a nuclear deterrent, renewing Trident is a bit like replacing the guest bathroom when the regular loo is hardly flushing. A 2015 Centreforum paper described it as “gold-plated” - if your idea of gold-plated is the ability to blow up “a minimum of eight cities”. There is a gory but necessary debate to be had about alternatives which could free up more money to be spent on conventional forces. 

Finally, a nuclear deterrent is only credible if you intend to use it. For this reason, the British government needs to focus on protecting the infrastructure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, now under threat from a US President who declared it “obsolete”. Eastern Europe has been nervous about the bear on its borders for some time - the number of Poles joining the country’s 120 paramilitary organisations has tripled in two years.  

Simply attacking Trident on safety grounds will only get you so far - after all, the argument behind renewing Trident is that the status quo will not do. Furthermore, for all the furore over a misfired Trident missile, it’s hard to imagine that should the hour come, the biggest worry for the crew of a nuclear submarine will be the small chance of a missile going in the wrong direction. That would be missing the rather higher chance of global nuclear apocalypse.

Anti-Trident MPs will make the most of May's current embarrassment. But if they can build bridges with the more hawkish members of the opposition, and criticise the government's defence policy on its own terms, they will find plenty more ammunition. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.