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.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.