James Murdoch hearing - live-blog

Instant coverage and analysis as the MPs question the News International chairman about phone-hackin

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13.37: And on that note, the inquiry is over. Thanks for joining us.

13.32: Why were Mulcaire's legal costs paid, asks Farrelly? Murdoch replies that his understanding is that legally, if he was acting on the company's behalf, then it was their responsibility to pay his legal costs. Farrelly presses the point of how unpalatable it is to be paying the legal fees of the man who hacked Milly Dowler's phone.

13.27: Back to Paul Farrelly for a final question on Glenn Mulcaire. He asks whether Murdoch was involved in anyway with the rumoured £1m payment to Max Clifford. Murdoch says he was not directly involved with this settlement. Farrelly points out that Clifford, too, is not a member of the royal family and repeats his line about the elder Murdoch: "I've got this Australian voice rattling around in my head..."

13.23: Murdoch tells Therese Coffey that the people who are allowed to make cash payments has been seriously restricted.

13.17: Bit of a digression here, as Steve Rotheram asks about the Hillsborough case. "Is it in the public interest to tell lies?" he says. Murdoch apologises for the coverage. Rotheram asks whether the Sun will be closed too if it is found that there was phone-hacking there. Murdoch says he can't "prejudge" what the corporate response would be but nothing is ruled out. This is the first time a News International executive has said that they could close other papers.

13.13: It gets personal. Watson says that a former NI employee claimed Rebekah Brooks had a "pathological dislike" for him (Watson). He reads out comments Brooks allegedly made to Tony Blair, calling on the then PM to reign the backbencher in: "he's mad". Watson asks if Murdoch knows about this. Murdoch is awkward, and says he had very little to do with the former prime minister.

Watson says that "the diktat went out" to staff to "dig up as much dirt as you can" on the culture committee. Murdoch says he had no knowledge of this.

13.09: Watson gets Murdoch to check with his counsel whether they knew about computer hacking in cases that were settled. After a pause, Murdoch says "they'd like to come back to you".

13.06: Whittingdale (the chair) turns back to Watson, given Mensch's line of questioning. Murdoch accepts that the use of surveillance of public figures was too widespread, in answer to Watson, who has listed the names of private investigators who worked for NI. He says that new guidelines at News International ban the use of private investigators without approval from the chief executive.

13.02: Mensch suggests it would have been better for News International to give a full disclosure rather than allow the damaging drip drip drip of revelations. Murdoch says that in future, the company will be "transparent and appropriate as possible".

12.58: She's asking about the surveillance of lawyers of plaintiffs. He says that it is "unacceptable" behaviour that he would "never condone" and that he was shocked to find it out. "The whole affair is just not acceptable, and not on," Murdoch says. On the surveillance of committee members (including Tom Watson), Murdoch apologises and says that although there is sometimes cause to trail public figures in investigative journalism, in this case it was unjustifiable.

12.53: Louise Mensch takes over, saying that she will have to leave as soon as she's finished asking questions so that she can collect her children from school. She asks how many other News International titles have been hacking phones, "to your knowledge". Murdoch looks unsettled. He says he can't speculate, but that they are taking it very seriously.

She's following up on accounts of people being hacked on American soil. He says he has no knowledge of this. "You're coming up blank," she says.

12.50: "Do you think you have handled this competently?" Murdoch pauses, and then says that he behaved reasonably given the information that he had. He says that he "shares" responsibility for the fact that the company took a long time to see the issue as legitimate criticism rather than simply attacks, and he will make sure this doesn't happen again.

Farrelly presses the issue, asking whether Murdoch's failure to ask screamingly obvious questions makes him incompetent. "No, it does not," says Murdoch, adding that he would not characterise it that way.

12.48: The complete contradiction between Myler/Crone's testimony and Murdoch's is being spelt out. Farrelly says that if they are telling the truth, Murdoch is lying, and vice versa. Murdoch replies by questioning the reliability of their testimony, saying it is full of supposition.

12.41: Farrelly says that Murdoch was "possibly the only person in London" to still believe that the hacking was the fault of one rogue reporter.

12.35: Farrelly is going over the same ground: why didn't Murdoch ask any further questions about what else Glenn Mulcaire was doing. He points out that Gordon Taylor was not royal -- and the "rogue reporter" narrative pinned the blame on Clive Goodman, the royal reporter. Would Rupert Murdoch not have asked how much more Mulcaire was going to cost? "I couldn't possibily speculate".

"It's remarkably incurious," he says. "Are you always so incurious?" All the MPs have made it clear they disbelieve Murdoch's account that he didn't know the extent of what was going on, but he is not budging. It is unlikely he will. The implication is that if he is not lying, he was recklessly hands off.

12.27: Paul Farrelly asks whether Murdoch will give Colin Myler (former NOTW editor) access to relevant documents so that he can "refresh his memory" as to whether a meeting took place. Murdoch evades the question, saying that he can show them his calendar, which has no reference to a meeting on that day. He pointedly refuses to say that he will grant Myler access to these documents, instead saying he will review News International procedures around that request.

12.22: The Guardian has a transcript of Watson's show-stopping revelation that he had spoken with Thurlbeck. Watson said:

Thurlbeck: I looked at it (the Neville email), no Tom, I never received it, I don't know. I'm looking at it and saying that surely somebody must have asked X to do this, X was asked to do so many of these by the newsdesk at the time.

So Tom comes to me and I tell him I had nothing to do with it. He tells me that it's gone through X in the office, so clearly News International are culpable, and I'm going to have to show this to James Murdoch.

He said is there any way we can get round this? And he says to me, Nev, I'm sorry I've got to show him this. I said Tom, I'm going to lose my job; he said not necessarily.

This is not some vague memory, I was absolutely on a knife edge. Tom took it to him. The following week I said "did you show him the email?" He said "yes I did". Now he can't remember whether he showed it to Mr Murdoch or not. He said "it's alright, it's fine, it's settled.

12.18: This is a clever line of questioning. Davies says that if, as Murdoch says, it was a culture where the top dogs basically ignored small parts of the business, then why would Crone have a strict ceiling on the level of payment he was allowed to authorise? (he couldn't authorise payments of more than £10,000). Murdoch responds:

The situation that we had here is one where a description was given very clearly by senior legal counsel that this case would be lost. There was an amount of money that was substantial, you are absolutely right. The way the company has always operated is to rely on executives responsible for a corner of the business to do what they need to do.

12.15: Davies says he can't even begin to believe that any self-respecting chief executive would fail to ask questions about such a substantial payment. He says he struggles to understand such a "cavalier" approach to money.

12.08: Philip Davies has taken over. "You seem more vague this time round than you were the first time round," he says, referring to Murdoch's repeated assertions that he does not recall exact details, etc. He continues to ask about the Taylor settlement.

He focuses on the advice given by Michael Silverleaf QC, which suggested the existence of evidence of a widespread culture of phone-hacking. Murdoch maintains that all he knew was what Silverleaf said about how much Taylor should receive in damages.

12.04: The general consensus is that Tom Watson has stolen the show. He has been building up to this moment. My colleague Jon Bernstein interviewed Watson in September, and discussed his questioning technique:

His probing was pithy and carefully sequenced, with the occasional leading question thrown in like a hand grenade. One lawyer suggested that all young barristers should be made to watch the exchange as part of their education.

Watson, who is now 44, puts the success of the session down, in part, to "massive preparation . . . For two years, I have been reading and absorbing this stuff. Then I worked for three days solid before we went in."

The other part, he says, was to work out what lay at the heart of the controversy. Once he had established that - "It's about the institutional culture at News International; this is about leadership" - he knew that Rupert, not James, should be his focus. Watson worked out how to order his questions. "At that point, I phoned up as many of my friends who are lawyers to say, 'This is how I want to do this - how would I lead it to this?'"

12.00: Murdoch continues to blame Myler and Crone, saying that he believed their advice on the Taylor case because he had "no reason at the time to believe they had anything other than the newspaper's best interests at heart". Collins is pushing the point though: why didn't Murdoch ask more questions when he was signing away half a million pounds? This is important: the real reason they settled is that going to court would have revealed evidence of wide-spread phone-hacking.

11.55: The Conservative MP Damian Collins has taken over, and there are none of Watson's theatrics. He is returning to the issue of exactly how much Murdoch knew when he agreed to the £425,000 out of court settlement for Gordon Taylor.

Murdoch reiterates his case: he was told it was "open and shut" that News International will lose the case. He saw evidence that Taylor's phone had been hacked, but not that anyone else's was.

11.50: Watson is enjoying this. "Are you familiar with the word mafia, Mr Murdoch?" He follows up: "Are you familiar with the word 'omerta', the culture of silence around the mafia? Do you accept that applies to the Murdoch empire?" Murdoch says he does not, and that this is an offensive statement.

Watson has his moment: "You must be the first mafia boss in history not to know he was running a criminal enterprise." Murdoch: "Mr Watson, please. That's inappropriate."

11.43: Watson says that since Murdoch will not answer his questions, he says that he will reveal that he met with Neville Thurlbeck. The meeting was supposed to be in confidence but he feels there is a public interest in sharing it. Thurlbeck recounts a conversation with Tom Crone where Crone said he was going to show the "for Neville" email to Murdoch.

Watson reads out a transcript of a conversation between Thurlbeck and Crone. Thurlbeck: "'Is there any way we can get round this?" Crone: "Nev, I'm sorry, I'm going to have to show him this, because it's the only reason we have to settle."

Murdoch is clearly rattled, but responds as calmly as he can to this attack, saying that he would like to see the transcript and couldn't comment on whether Thurlbeck's recollection is accurate.

According to Watson, Thurlbeck said: "This is not some vague memory. He was going to show this to James Murdoch."

11.39: Watson is incredulous at Murdoch's continued denial that he knew anything about the evidence of wide-spread phone-hacking.

Are you seriously asking me to believe that there was no mention of the 'for Neville' email, despite this being central to your discussions with Myler and Crone and in Crone's opinion, fatal to your case?

11.36: He is not wavering from his story: he did not see, and was not shown, any evidence that wide-spread phone-hacking existed. "Certain individuals" were aware of what was going on back in 2008, but "none of those things" were relayed to him. Murdoch suggests he was given a "narrower set of facts than I might have liked" because he would have said to "cut out the cancer" and get rid of anyone suspected of wrong-doing.

11.29: Watson: "Did you mislead this committee?" Murdoch: "No, I didn't". Watson: "If you didn't, then who did?"

Murdoch says that Myler (the News of the World's former editor) and Crone's (the paper's lawyer) testimony was "misleading, and I dispute it". Watson asks whether the Farrer's lawyer misled them. Murdoch stumbles, and says that he doesn't have reason to believe that.

11.26: Murdoch remains in control and calm -- he hasn't referred to his notes. He is riled though: "No, I don't accept that, Mr Watson". Watson continues to focus on how much Murdoch knew about the Taylor case, and alleges that Murdoch made an "unprecented payment to Taylor to buy his silence".

11.22: Labour MP and star of this inquiry, Tom Watson, is now questioning Murdoch. He is asking about the legal advice given by law firm Farrers, and an internal memo which said that the evidence unearthed in the Gordon Taylor settlement could be "fatal to our case". Murdoch continues to claim ignorance, saying that he knew this legal advice existed but not what it said.

He's sticking to his story that he was new to the News of the World, thought that phone-hacking was in the past, and paid Taylor without asking any questions.

11.21: Echoing his last appearance, Murdoch says that the News of the World was one small part of a global company, and that is why he did not know all the details.

11.18: Murdoch says "If I'd known then what I know today, the company would have acted differently." He's referring -- again -- to the "for Neville" email, which indicated that phone-hacking went beyond one rogue reporter (Goodman), as the newspaper had claimed.

11.16: Murdoch says that the company "pushed back too hard" on the Guardian's initial reports. Earlier, he said that their mistake was assuming attacks were politically or commercially motivated.

11.13: Adrian Sanders asks whether Murdoch has had time to consider the meaning of "wilful blindness" since his last appearance. "At no point so I think the company suffered from wilful blindness," says Murdoch. Since he has consistently been unaware of details, says Sanders, does this mean information was kept from him? He says the information held by the Metropolitan police "was not made clear to me". He essentially blames Colin Myler for not making the full story clear to him:

Senior management rely on executives to behave in a certain way. We have to rely on those executives, otherwise it's impossible to manage every single detail in a company of this scale.

11.10: Sheridan asks whether he is "humbled" by the affair, as Rupert Murdoch said he was. "I think the whole company is humbled," says Murdoch.

11.08: Jim Sheridan is asking him about the aftermath of the Clive Goodman case and what he was told. Murdoch said he did not see counsel opinion that phone-hacking was more widespread. He says that Les Hinton did not discuss the Goodman settlement with him when Murdoch became chairman: "It was some time before I had joined...the arrests were well over a year, a year and a half before."

11.04: As predicted, the questions have kicked off with how much Murdoch knew about the "for Neville" email. After his last appearance, Tom Crone and Colin Myler disputed his claim that he had no knowledge of this email (Sky News has a good summary of the claims that have been made so far).

Murdoch says that the suspicion of wider evidence of hacking was not discussed in May 2008 meetings with Crone and Myler, despite the settlement to Gordon Taylor. He concedes that he was told about the "for Neville" email but sticks to his line: he wasn't told that it showed wider evidence of hacking.

10.59: Here's the full list of the 10 members of the cross-party culture, media and sport select committee that will question Murdoch:

Thérèse Coffey (Conservative)
Damian Collins (Conservative)
Philip Davies (Conservative)
Paul Farrelly (Labour)
Alan Keen (Labour Co-operative)
Louise Mensch (Conservative)
Adrian Sanders (Liberal Democrat)
Jim Sheridan (Labour)
Tom Watson (Labour)
Steve Rotheram (Labour)

10.52am: Welcome to the live-blog. Stay with this page for up-to-the-minute coverage of James Murdoch's appearance in front of the culture select committee.

Since Murdoch was last questioned by MPs, back in July, a string of further allegations have surfaced. The number of potential phone-hacking victims has more than doubled from 2,000 to 5,800, and it has emerged that in addition to phone-hacking, the News of the World ordered covert surveillance of Prince William and more than 100 others.

The testimony he gave in July has been questioned by others at the News of the World -- in particular expect MPs to ask about the so-called "for Neville email" which would prove how much he knew when he signed off a 2008 out-of-court payment to footballers' union leader Gordon Taylor.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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We're racing towards another private debt crisis - so why did no one see it coming?

The Office for Budget Responsibility failed to foresee the rise in household debt. 

This is a call for a public inquiry on the current situation regarding private debt.

For almost a decade now, since 2007, we have been living a lie. And that lie is preparing to wreak havoc on our economy. If we do not create some kind of impartial forum to discuss what is actually happening, the results might well prove disastrous. 

The lie I am referring to is the idea that the financial crisis of 2008, and subsequent “Great Recession,” were caused by profligate government spending and subsequent public debt. The exact opposite is in fact the case. The crash happened because of dangerously high levels of private debt (a mortgage crisis specifically). And - this is the part we are not supposed to talk about—there is an inverse relation between public and private debt levels.

If the public sector reduces its debt, overall private sector debt goes up. That's what happened in the years leading up to 2008. Now austerity is making it happening again. And if we don't do something about it, the results will, inevitably, be another catastrophe.

The winners and losers of debt

These graphs show the relationship between public and private debt. They are both forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, produced in 2015 and 2017. 

This is what the OBR was projecting what would happen around now back in 2015:

This year the OBR completely changed its forecast. This is how it now projects things are likely to turn out:

First, notice how both diagrams are symmetrical. What happens on top (that part of the economy that is in surplus) precisely mirrors what happens in the bottom (that part of the economy that is in deficit). This is called an “accounting identity.”

As in any ledger sheet, credits and debits have to match. The easiest way to understand this is to imagine there are just two actors, government, and the private sector. If the government borrows £100, and spends it, then the government has a debt of £100. But by spending, it has injected £100 more pounds into the private economy. In other words, -£100 for the government, +£100 for everyone else in the diagram. 

Similarly, if the government taxes someone for £100 , then the government is £100 richer but there’s £100 subtracted from the private economy (+£100 for government, -£100 for everybody else on the diagram).

So what implications does this kind of bookkeeping have for the overall economy? It means that if the government goes into surplus, then everyone else has to go into debt.

We tend to think of money as if it is a bunch of poker chips already lying around, but that’s not how it really works. Money has to be created. And money is created when banks make loans. Either the government borrows money and injects it into the economy, or private citizens borrow money from banks. Those banks don’t take the money from people’s savings or anywhere else, they just make it up. Anyone can write an IOU. But only banks are allowed to issue IOUs that the government will accept in payment for taxes. (In other words, there actually is a magic money tree. But only banks are allowed to use it.)

There are other factors. The UK has a huge trade deficit (blue), and that means the government (yellow) also has to run a deficit (print money, or more accurately, get banks to do it) to inject into the economy to pay for all those Chinese trainers, American iPads, and German cars. The total amount of money can also fluctuate. But the real point here is, the less the government is in debt, the more everyone else must be. Austerity measures will necessarily lead to rising levels of private debt. And this is exactly what has happened.

Now, if this seems to have very little to do with the way politicians talk about such matters, there's a simple reason: most politicians don’t actually know any of this. A recent survey showed 90 per cent of MPs don't even understand where money comes from (they think it's issued by the Royal Mint). In reality, debt is money. If no one owed anyone anything at all there would be no money and the economy would grind to a halt.

But of course debt has to be owed to someone. These charts show who owes what to whom.

The crisis in private debt

Bearing all this in mind, let's look at those diagrams again - keeping our eye particularly on the dark blue that represents household debt. In the first, 2015 version, the OBR duly noted that there was a substantial build-up of household debt in the years leading up to the crash of 2008. This is significant because it was the first time in British history that total household debts were higher than total household savings, and therefore the household sector itself was in deficit territory. (Corporations, at the same time, were raking in enormous profits.) But it also predicted this wouldn't happen again.

True, the OBR observed, austerity and the reduction of government deficits meant private debt levels would have to go up. However, the OBR economists insisted this wouldn't be a problem because the burden would fall not on households but on corporations. Business-friendly Tory policies would, they insisted, inspire a boom in corporate expansion, which would mean frenzied corporate borrowing (that huge red bulge below the line in the first diagram, which was supposed to eventually replace government deficits entirely). Ordinary households would have little or nothing to worry about.

This was total fantasy. No such frenzied boom took place.

In the second diagram, two years later, the OBR is forced to acknowledge this. Corporations are just raking in the profits and sitting on them. The household sector, on the other hand, is a rolling catastrophe. Austerity has meant falling wages, less government spending on social services (or anything else), and higher de facto taxes. This puts the squeeze on household budgets and people are forced to borrow. As a result, not only are households in overall deficit for the second time in British history, the situation is actually worse than it was in the years leading up to 2008.

And remember: it was a mortgage crisis that set off the 2008 crash, which almost destroyed the world economy and plunged millions into penury. Not a crisis in public debt. A crisis in private debt.

An inquiry

In 2015, around the time the original OBR predictions came out, I wrote an essay in the Guardian predicting that austerity and budget-balancing would create a disastrous crisis in private debt. Now it's so clearly, unmistakably, happening that even the OBR cannot deny it.

I believe the time has come for there be a public investigation - a formal public inquiry, in fact - into how this could be allowed to happen. After the 2008 crash, at least the economists in Treasury and the Bank of England could plausibly claim they hadn't completely understood the relation between private debt and financial instability. Now they simply have no excuse.

What on earth is an institution called the “Office for Budget Responsibility” credulously imagining corporate borrowing binges in order to suggest the government will balance the budget to no ill effects? How responsible is that? Even the second chart is extremely odd. Up to 2017, the top and bottom of the diagram are exact mirrors of one another, as they ought to be. However, in the projected future after 2017, the section below the line is much smaller than the section above, apparently seriously understating the amount both of future government, and future private, debt. In other words, the numbers don't add up.

The OBR told the New Statesman ​that it was not aware of any errors in its 2015 forecast for corporate sector net lending, and that the forecast was based on the available data. It said the forecast for business investment has been revised down because of the uncertainty created by Brexit. 

Still, if the “Office of Budget Responsibility” was true to its name, it should be sounding off the alarm bells right about now. So far all we've got is one mention of private debt and a mild warning about the rise of personal debt from the Bank of England, which did not however connect the problem to austerity, and one fairly strong statement from a maverick columnist in the Daily Mail. Otherwise, silence. 

The only plausible explanation is that institutions like the Treasury, OBR, and to a degree as well the Bank of England can't, by definition, warn against the dangers of austerity, however alarming the situation, because they have been set up the way they have in order to justify austerity. It's important to emphasise that most professional economists have never supported Conservative policies in this regard. The policy was adopted because it was convenient to politicians; institutions were set up in order to support it; economists were hired in order to come up with arguments for austerity, rather than to judge whether it would be a good idea. At present, this situation has led us to the brink of disaster.

The last time there was a financial crash, the Queen famously asked: why was no one able to foresee this? We now have the tools. Perhaps the most important task for a public inquiry will be to finally ask: what is the real purpose of the institutions that are supposed to foresee such matters, to what degree have they been politicised, and what would it take to turn them back into institutions that can at least inform us if we're staring into the lights of an oncoming train?