Chris Bryant calls for Sun editor to be sacked over text message hacking

Shadow immigration minister says Dominic Mohan should be "sacked" after hacking of Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh's phone occurred on his watch.

With rather unfortunate timing, the Sun has been forced to apologise for illegally accessing text messages on Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh's stolen phone. The paper, which is not accused of the theft of the phone itself, also paid damages of £50,000. The Sun's QC Dinah Rose QC told the judge: "Through me [the Sun] offer their unreserved apology to the claimant for what has happened.

"Furthermore they have undertaken to the court not to use any information so obtained nor to access or attempt to access by unlawful means the claimant's private information."

What makes the story particularly significant is that the phone was stolen in October 2010 after Dominic Mohan, the current editor, took up his post. In response, Labour MP and shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant has called for Mohan to be sacked. 

Tom Watson was also quick to question Mohan's position. 

Bryant and Watson will be dismissed as the usual suspects by News International but it is likely that at some point Mohan will be forced to account for what he knew when.

Depending on your perspective, the case can be cited as evidence either for or against tougher press regulation. There are already laws against hacking and, on this occasion, they have been appropriately applied. But this latest incident does undermine the claim that the industry is self-correcting itself. Only state-backed regulation, some will argue, can enable the necessary culture change. 

Dominic Mohan, editor of the Sun newspaper, arrives to give evidence at to the Leveson inquiry at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on February 7, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.