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

Why Chris Grayling is Jeremy Corbyn's secret weapon

The housing crisis is Labour's best asset - and Chris Grayling is making it worse. 

It feels like the classic Conservative story: wait until the election is over, then cancel spending in areas that have the temerity to vote Labour. The electrification of rail routes from Cardiff to Swansea – scrapped. So too is the electrification of the Leeds to Manchester route – and of the Midland main line.

But Crossrail 2, which runs from north to south across London and deep into the capital's outer satellites, including that of Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, will go ahead as planned.

It would be grim but effective politics if the Conservatives were pouring money into the seats they won or lost narrowly. There are 25 seats that the Conservatives can take with a swing of 1 per cent from Labour to Tory, and 30 seats that they would lose with a swing of 1 per cent from Tory to Labour.

It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the Conservatives were making spending decisions with an eye on what you might call the frontline 55. But what they’re actually doing is taking money away from north-west marginal constituencies – and lavishing cash on increasingly Labour London. In doing that, they’re actually making their electoral headache worse.

How so? As I’ve written before, the biggest problem for the Conservatives in the long term is simply that not enough people are getting on the housing ladder. That is hurting them in two ways. The first is straightforward: economically-driven voters are not turning blue when they turn 30 because they are not either on or about to mount the first rungs of the housing ladder. More than half of 30-year-olds were mortgage-payers in 1992, when John Major won an unexpected Conservative majority, while under a third were in 2017, when Theresa May unexpectedly lost hers.

But it is also hurting them because culturally-driven voters are getting on the housing ladder, but by moving out of areas where Labour’s socially-concerned core vote congregates in great numbers, and into formerly safe or at least marginal Conservative seats. That effect has reached what might be its final, and for the Conservatives, deadly form in Brighton. All three of the Brighton constituencies – Hove, Brighton Kemptown and Brighton Pavilion – were Conservative-held in 1992. Now none of them are. In Pavilion they are third, and the smallest majority they have to overcome is 9,868, in Kemptown. The same effect helped reduce Amber Rudd’s majority in Hastings, also in East Sussex, to 346.

The bad news for the Conservatives is that the constituencies of Crawley, Reading, Swindon and in the longer-term, Bracknell, all look like Brightons in the making: although only Reading East fell to Labour this time, all saw swings bigger than the national average and all are seeing increasing migration by culturally-driven left-wing voters away from safe Labour seats. All are seeing what you might call “Hackneyfication”: commuters moving from inner city seats but taking their politics with them.

Add to that forced migration from inner London to seats like Iain Duncan Smith’s in Chingford – once a Conservative fortress, now a razor-thin marginal – and even before you add in the appeal of Jeremy Corbyn’s person and platform, the electoral picture for the Conservatives looks bleak.

(It should go without saying that voters are driven by both economics and culture. The binary I’ve used here is simplistic but helpful to understand the growing demographic pressures on the Conservatives.)

There is actually a solution here for the Tories. It’s both to build more housing but also to rebalance the British economy, because the housing crisis in London and the south is driven by the jobs and connectivity crisis in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Or, instead, they could have a number of measures designed to make London’s economy stride still further ahead of the rest, serviced by 5 per cent mortgages and growing numbers of commuter rail services to facilitate a growing volume of consumers from London’s satellite towns, all of which only increase the electoral pressures on their party. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.