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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Autumn Statement 2015: whatever you hear, don't forget - there is an alternative

The goverment's programme of cuts is a choice, not a certainty, says Jolyon Maugham.

Later today you will hear George Osborne say there is no alternative to his plan to slash a further £20bn from lean public services by 2020-21. He will also say that there is no alternative to £9bn cuts to tax credits, cuts that will hit the poorest hardest, cuts of thousands of pounds per annum to the incomes of millions of households.

But there is.

As I outlined here the Conservatives plan future tax cuts which benefit, disproportionately or exclusively, the wealthy. Suspending those future tax cuts for the wealthy would say, by 2020-21, £9.3bn per annum.

I also explained here that a mere 50 of our 1,156 tax reliefs cost us over £100bn per annum. We don't know how much the other 1,106 reliefs cost us - because Government doesn't monitor them. And we don't know what public benefit they deliver - because Government doesn't check.

What we do know, as I explained here, is that they disproportionately and regressively benefit the wealthy: an average of £190,400 per annum for the wealthiest.

And we know, too, that they include (amongst the more than 1,000 uncosted reliefs) the £1bn plus “Rights for Shares Scheme” - badged by the Chancellor as for workers but identified by a leading law firm as designed for the wealthiest.

Simply by asking a question that the Chancellor chooses to ignore - do these 1,156 reliefs deliver value for money - it is entirely possible that £10bn or more extra in taxes could be collected without any loss of  public benefit

To this £19bn, we might add the indiscriminate provision - both direct and indirect - of public money to wealthy pensioners.

Those above basic state pension age enjoy a tax subsidy of up to 12% on earned income.

Moreover, this Office for National Statistics data (see Table 18) reveals that the 10% of wealthiest retired households - some 714,000 households - have gross pre-tax and pre-benefit private income of on average £43,983. Yet still they enjoy average cash benefits from government of £11,500 per annum.

Means testing benefits to exclude that top 10 per cent of retired households would save £8.2bn per annum. And why, you might wonder aloud, should means testing be thought by the government appropriate for the working age population, yet a heresy for retired households?

Add in abolition of that unprincipled tax subsidy and you'll save even more. 

So there are alternatives. Clear alternatives. Good alternatives. Alternatives that enable those with the broadest shoulders to bear some share of the pain. Don't allow yourself to be persuaded otherwise.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.