It may now be easier to compile a list of those who didn’t have their phones hacked, than those who did, but the revelation that the families of dead soldiers were targeted is still in a sordid class of its own. Naturally, it’s increased the pressure for an immediate public inquiry into the scandal. Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and, now, Boris Johnson are all agreed that the inquiry should be led by a judge. But David Cameron insists that it need not be.
One Downing Street source tells the Guardian: “We do not have to have a judge-led inquiry to make it effective.” The suspicion, of course, is that the Prime Minister is unwilling to testify under oath that Andy Coulson did know about the phone hacking.
It’s a stance that puts him at odds with Clegg, who, in an email to Lib Dem members explicitly declared that the inquiry “must be presided over by a judge”. Clegg’s call was echoed by Chris Huhne, a persistent critic of News International, who told the Today programme: “the inquiry is going to have to be judge-led.” Similarly, Boris declared this morning: “There should be a judge-led inquiry and it should be immediate … get the editors in, get the proprietors in.”
But for others an inquiry, judge-led or otherwise, is a distraction from the priority — to stop Rupert Murdoch getting his hands on the 61 per cent of BSkyB he does not already own. Lord Oakeshott, a close ally of Vince Cable, tells the Independent: “What is the point of an inquiry if Mr Murdoch is allowed to walk away with the big prize [BSkyB]?” Intriguingly, the paper reports that some MPs believe there could be “discreet contacts between Downing Street and senior News Corp figures urging the company to suspend its bid.” Others speculate that the government may use emergency legislation to halt Murdoch’s takeover.
The expectation among some is that all of this could persuade Murdoch to toughen his stance and cut Rebekah Brooks loose. But it’s hard to see how the departure of Brooks, however cathartic, could assuage News Corp’s political foes. The damage, as Murdoch well knows, has been done.