The phone hacking scandal is a disgrace. And it will all happen again

The media acts as it does because it's the way we like it.

It will happen again. We'll have our debates, enquiries and investigations. People will resign and get sacked and go to jail. And then it will all happen again.

There is a simple reason why the parents of a murdered schoolgirl lived with false hope, and the investigation into their daughter's brutal killing jeopardised. Because that's the way we wanted it. Not just Glenn Mulcaire or, possibly, Rebekah Brooks. All of us.

Oh, it's unfortunate, of course. We feel sympathy for the Dowlers; it would be inhuman not to. But our humanity never actually extended so far as doing anything to prevent it. Doing anything to break the cycle, the synthetic outrage and cover up.

The relationship between politicians, press and police has always been a perverse one. You scratch my back, I'll stab yours. But when push came to shove, and the chips were down, the unholy trinity rallied round to protect their own.

Yes the press have been drunk on power. But only because the politicians kept handing them the bottle and refusing to call last orders. And when anyone complained about their loutish and unruly behaviour, the forces of law and order were on hand to discretely move people on their way.

Tom Watson, likely to be just about the only person to emerge from this sordid episode with his reputation intact, claimed on Newsnight that the inaction of politicians was motivated by fear. They dare not move against the media through trepidation over the personal and professional consequences.

He's wrong. Politicians refused to ring the bell of the last chance saloon because they loved it in there. I know. I spent many happy hours propping up the bar with them.

When Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell were at the height of their powers, which media organisation did the chose to go to war with. News International? No, the BBC. When Damian McBride was compiling his dossier on David Cameron who do you think he was planning to give it to? The Independent?

As soon as Labour got into power we didn't just dance with the devil. We piled into his chauffer-driven limo, grabbed the cigars and the strippers, and went on a decade long bender with him.

We loved that we could use our erstwhile media enemies to "do a number" on our political opponents. We bragged about our contacts and new found press relationships. Mocked the Tories for their laughable efforts to match our prowess at media manipulation.

And you think we didn't know? How our new friends worked. What they were up to. I remember a colleague excitedly regaling with me with the tale of how having planted a story on an errant Tory politician, one of the tabloids was going to track him down. Bribing employees of credit card companies for hotel details. Airlines, to obtain passenger lists. Mobile companies for phone records.

We weren't ignorant of the way the press worked. Or shocked by it. We were titillated by it. Here were the dark arts laid out before us. We had arrived.

And you seriously think those days are now behind us? The Rubicon is finally about to be forded.

By who? David Cameron? The man who had Coulson on his staff and Brooks on his Christmas dinner party list. By Ed Miliband? Who at the start of the year was sending out emails imploring his MPs not to link the BSkyB deal with phone-hacking, and telling them if they'd had their own phones hacked they were on their own and it wasn't a matter for him or the Labour Party.

Trust me. There will be lots of rage and anguish. Much of it will be sincere. But those advertisers will eventually want to sell their products. The police will start to miss their back-handers. And a year out from an election, those News International endorsements are going to look enticing. You think poor Mr and Mrs Dowler are going to be allowed to stand in the way of all that?

The media acts the way it does because it's the way we like it. Politicians, police and press.

And those other co-conspirators. The great British public. Phones are bugged because we want to read what's on them. Police are bribed because we want to hear the stories they have to tell. Politicians acquiesce because despite out strenuous denials, when they tell us how to vote, we listen.

"David Cameron has jumped into the sewer," said Peter Oborne over the Prime Ministers relationship with the Murdoch press. He's right, he has. And we're all in there splashing happily along beside him.

In a democracy, we get the press we deserve. And boy, do we all deserve Rebekah Brooks and Glenn Mulcaire.

Weep for Milly Dowler, her parents and their torment. But hold a tear or two back. Because all this will be happening again.

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How conspiracy theories about the Salisbury attack tap into antisemitic tropes

Rather than blame Russia for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, some are questioning the intentions of Labour MPs. 

Shortly after the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, guests on the BBC’s Newsnight programme discussed the reaction of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The Twitterati went into meltdown. Was the image of the Labour leader amid a Kremlin skyline part of a mainstream media plot to depict Jeremy as a “Soviet stooge”? Was the hat he was wearing “doctored” to look more Russian?

Much of the conspiracy material circulating online recently – and indeed the story on Newsnight about Corbyn – flowed from the shocking attack that has left Skripal and his daughter in hospital and affected many others. The government, and now EU leaders, have blamed Russia for the attack. Yet among some sections of the online left, there seemed a reluctance to point fingers. But if Russia didn’t do it, how could the matter be explained to fit a pre-existing worldview? Jews such as myself wondered how long it would be before the finger pointed at us. It wasn’t even a week before political space had been created which emboldened some to pursue the notion that not Russia but gangsters, Britain’s own research lab or yes, Israel were more reasonably the brains behind the poisoning.

One of the voices that gained traction in relation to the spy attack story belongs to former British diplomat Craig Murray, who took exception to the speed with which Russia was declared responsible. Picking up on the government line that the toxin was “of a type developed by Russia” he penned a blog entitled: “Of a type developed by liars” building on his previous piece “Russian to judgement” which contained numerous allegations, including that “Israel has a clear motivation for damaging the Russian reputation so grievously”. Murray’s work was picked up by left-wing news outlet The Canary and Evolve Politics, among others. The latter also quoted Annie Machon, a former MI5 agent who has previously supported 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Murray’s view soon entered the mainstream, with the Guardian referencing it and one Labour MP sharing a Murray tweet declaring: “Wow, if this is true Theresa May has some very serious questions to answer”. The spotlight on Murray’s theories was a worrying development given that not long before, Murray, had been speculating about another matter.

After the Labour MP John Woodcock introduced to Parliament an Early Day Motion that unequivocally accepts the Russian state’s culpability for the poisoning, Murray tweeted: “Remarkable correlation between Labour MPs who attacked Corbyn in EDM wanting no investigation into Salisbury before firmly attributing blame, and parliamentary Labour friends of Israel, I wonder why?” One can read into this statement what one wants, but to me it seemed to imply that rushing to judgement on Moscow might benefit MPs supportive of Israel, which in conspiracy world are in its pay. Certainly that’s what a number of online hounds sniffed. But rather than one type of conspiracy, Murray was apparently pointing to another. “A conspiracy to attack the leadership of Jeremy Cobyn, perhaps. If you think I was accusing them of being part of a conspiracy to kill Skripal, you are daft,” he tweeted. In short, he seems to be saying, whilst there was not a conspiracy of MPs to be a part of any plot to kill the double agent, the EDM “perhaps” represented a conspiracy to attack the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. 

Others were bolder. One Labour activist, writing about the aforementioned EDM, declared it was “worth noting one of the people sponsoring this motion is a named CIA asset”. Though unspecified, the asset referred to was believed by some to be Ruth Smeeth MP. This seemingly centres on Smeeth being named in a single diplomatic cable from 2009, released by Wikileaks, in reference to her views, when a parliamentary candidate, about an early election being called by Gordon Brown. 

Entirely unrelated to these particular tweets or Murray’s writing, Smeeth also happens to be an MP who has spoken out about antisemitism, and was forced to accept police protection following antisemitic abuse she has received online. She and another MP, John Mann, have both received antisemitic death threats. I stood next to Mann at Labour party conference as a delegate berated him, calling him a CIA agent for taking on this “antisemitism nonsense”. For me, this interaction underlined the causality between some conspiracy theories and antisemitic activity (Mann is not Jewish, but has been a prominent opponent of antisemitism in the party). 

Though it is difficult to reduce to a simple guide, allegations of Israeli conduct that draw on classic antisemitic tropes should be avoided. In recent years this has included suggestions of “organ harvesting” which draw on the antisemitic blood libel, or those that speculate about political control, such as suggestions that “the Israeli tail wags the US dog.”

Certainly, the centrality of Israel to conspiracy theory has a long history. In Mein Kampf, Hitler alleged: “All they want is a central organisation for their international world swindler, endowed with its own sovereign rights and removed from the intervention of other states.” Of course, this type of global antisemitic conspiracy theory predates Hitler. The antisemitic hoax, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, is decades older. Russian in origin, it purported to reveal a meeting of Jews seeking to manipulate governments, foment war and subvert the morals of society. Today, we see a similar sentiment. Indeed, Russian president Vladimir Putin suggested that Jews, or other ethnic minorities, might be behind electoral interference in America. A US lawmaker recently blamed a Jewish elite for controlling the weather and closer to home, one of the Twitter accounts that popularised the Corbyn hat conspiracy, has also shared antisemitic conspiracy theories.

With conspiracy theories transposing from the far right to the extreme left online, it is unsurprising that before long Rothschild conspiracy (secret Jewish plot) memes were posted on Labour party supporter and other forums in relation to the Salisbury poisoning. Indeed, antisemitism itself tends to attract the acrid smell of conspiracy theory. When such an act is alleged, cries of “smears” and “witch hunt” follow. Only recently, The Times reported on an MIT study which revealed that a false-news tweet is 70 per cent more likely to be retweeted than a true story. Maybe this is why allegations of Mossad collaboration with Nazis or Hitler’s support for Zionism have been so widespread.

People cannot necessarily be held responsible for falling for conspiracy theories. Trust in government is at an all-time low. Spin, scandal and economic sorrow have left people looking for alternative heroes and whomever is deemed most reliable on social media timelines will do. Conspiracy theories play into prejudices. They empower and embolden people to feel a step ahead, they provide a scapegoat and a self-satisfying rebuttal loop. Those that do know better meanwhile are perhaps worried to tackle others for fear of attack, hope for better times ahead or most worryingly, see populist conspiracy as a Trumpian route to power.

Last week, we helped organise the first ever one man show in parliament: Marlon Solomon, who will return to Edinburgh with his show “Conspiracy Theory: A Lizard’s Tale” this year. As he reminded us this week, it wasn’t so long ago that a Labour MP was stabbed to death by someone with a warped view of reality. Obsessive and distorted hatred of Israel and Jews has an effect. Conspiracy theories matter. They have real-life consequences for people. It is incumbent upon leaders across the political spectrum not to normalise or sanitise conspiracy theories, or conspiratorial antisemitism, nor to allow us to think we can “trust no one”. But then, as the conspiracists will tell you, I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Danny Stone MBE is the director of the Antisemitism Policy Trust.