Labour MPs urge police to consider charging Murdoch after secret tape is released

Tom Watson and Chris Bryant suggest that Murdoch could be charged with perverting the course of justice.

While most people were watching Andy Murray's triumph or Mohammed Morsi's fall, the phone-hacking scandal took yet another turn. Almost exactly two years to the day after the Milly Dowler story broke, the investigative site Exaro revealed a secret recording (appropriately enough) of Rupert Murdoch addressing Sun staff in March in which he describes payments to the police and public officials as "the culture of Fleet Street" and expresses regret at News Corp's co-operation with the hacking inquiry.

In reference to the decision of the company's internal management and standards committee to hand over documents to the police, Murdoch said:

… it was a mistake, I think. But, in that atmosphere, at that time, we said, 'Look, we are an open book, we will show you everything'. And the lawyers just got rich going through millions of emails.

All I can say is, for the last several months, we have told, the MSC has told, and [**** ****], who's a terrific lawyer, has told the police, has said, 'No, no, no – get a court order. Deal with that.'

After journalists told him that they felt scapegoated, he commented: 

We're talking about payments for news tips from cops: that's been going on a hundred years, absolutely. You didn't instigate it.

Labour MPs Tom Watson and Chris Bryant, the twin scourges of News Corp, have been quick to respond, urging police to question Murdoch and to consider charging him with perverting the course of justice.

Bryant, the shadow immigration minister, who I'm told is in line for a promotion when Ed Miliband reshuffles his team, tweeted this morning: "So there's a surprise, @rupertmurdoch was lying and play acting when he appeared before parliament. Time police considered charging him."

Watson told Channel 4 News last night: "What he seems to be saying there is that they stopped co-operating with the police before the Sun staff started to rebel. And what I would like to know is what are they sitting on that they've not given the police. And I'm sure that this transcript and this audiotape should be in the hands of the police tomorrow because I hope that they're going to be interviewing Rupert Murdoch about what he did know about criminality in his organisation."

News Corp has responded by declaring that "No other company has done as much to identify what went wrong, compensate the victims, and ensure the same mistakes do not happen again. The unprecedented co-operation granted by News Corp was agreed unanimously by senior management and the board, and the MSC continues to co-operate under the supervision of the courts."

For Ed Miliband, under relentless fire from the Tories over the Unite-Falkirk affair, the story comes at a convenient moment. At yesterday's PMQs, after Cameron accused him of "taking his script from the trade unions", Miliband reminded MPs that it was the Prime Minister who "brought Andy Coulson into the heart of Downing Street". Anything that revives interest in the scandal, ahead of Coulson's trial in September, remains political gold for the Labour leader. 

Follow The Staggers on Twitter: @TheStaggers

Rupert Murdoch delivers a keynote address at the National Summit on Education Reform in San Francisco, California. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

How a small tax rise exposed the SNP's anti-austerity talk for just that

The SNP refuse to use their extra powers to lessen austerity, says Kezia Dugdale.

"We will demand an alternative to slash and burn austerity."

With those few words, Nicola Sturgeon sought to reassure the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year that the SNP were a party opposed to public spending cuts. We all remember the general election TV debates, where the First Minister built her celebrity as the leader of the anti-austerity cause.

Last week, though, she was found out. When faced with the choice between using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in the future or imposing cuts to our schools, Nicola Sturgeon chose cuts. Incredible as it sounds the SNP stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories to vote for hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts to schools and other vital public services, rather than asking people to pay a little bit more to invest. That's not the choice of an anti-austerity pin-up. It's a sell-out.

People living outside of Scotland may not be fully aware of the significant shift that has taken place in politics north of the border in the last week. The days of grievance and blaming someone else for decisions made in Scotland appear to be coming to an end.

The SNP's budget is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. It will impose hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to local public services - including our schools. We don't know what cuts the SNP are planning for future years because they are only presenting a one year budget to get them through the election, but we know from the experts that the biggest cuts are likely to come in 2017/18 and 2018/19. For unprotected budgets like education that could mean cuts of 16 per cent.

It doesn't have to be this way, though. The Scottish Parliament has the power to stop these cuts, if only we have the political will to act. Last week I did just that.

I set out a plan, using the new powers we have today, to set a Scottish rate of income tax 1p higher than that set by George Osborne. This would raise an extra half a billion pounds, giving us the chance to stop the cuts to education and other services. Labour would protect education funding in real terms over the next five years in Scotland. Faced with the choice of asking people to pay a little bit more to invest or carrying on with the SNP's cuts, the choice was pretty simple for me - I won't support cuts to our nation’s future prosperity.

Being told by commentators across the political spectrum that my plan is bold should normally set alarm bells ringing. Bold is usually code for saying something unpopular. In reality, it's pretty simple - how can I say I am against cuts but refuse to use the powers we have to stop them?

Experts - including Professors David Bell and David Eiser of the University of Stirling; the Resolution Foundation; and IPPR Scotland - have said our plan is fair because the wealthiest few would pay the most. Trade unions have backed our proposal, because they recognise the damage hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts will do to our schools and the jobs it will cost.

Council leaders have said our plan to pay £100 cashback to low income taxpayers - including pensioners - to ensure they benefit from this plan is workable.

The silliest of all the SNP's objections is that they won't back our plan because the poorest shouldn't have to pay the price of Tory austerity. The idea that imposing hundreds of millions of pounds of spending cuts on our schools and public services won't make the poorest pay is risible. It's not just the poorest who will lose out from cuts to education. Every single family and business in Scotland would benefit from having a world class education system that gives our young the skills they need to make their way in the world.

The next time we hear Nicola Sturgeon talk up her anti-austerity credentials, people should remember how she did nothing when she had the chance to end austerity. Until now it may have been acceptable to say you are opposed to spending cuts but doing nothing to stop them. Those days are rapidly coming to a close. It makes for the most important, and most interesting, election we’ve had in Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale is leader of Scottish Labour.