With no more than five months to go before the next General Election, and the polls suggesting, overall, a Labour lead that could see Mil The Younger in 10 Downing Street afterwards, it might be thought that any reshuffle in the opposition’s front bench team would be smartly reported and assiduously picked over in the press. But that thought would have been misplaced.
Chris Bryant MP ((c) Guardian)
While Miliband’s appointment of Lord Bach to replace Emily Thornberry as shadow Attorney General featured in most papers, his new pick for shadow Culture Secretary, following the Tories’ Sajid Javid, has not. This is not unconnected with the fact that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport includes oversight of the Fourth Estate – “media” includes the printed kind.
So why would a new appointment to this role cause the press to collectively keep schtum and not tell their readers? Put it this way: Tom Watson announced the appointment during his Leveson anniversary lecture last Wednesday, an event organised by the Hacked Off campaign, to thunderous applause. That applause was because the name in the frame was Chris Bryant.
Bryant, who represents the Rhondda, left his mark on the Murdoch empire when, as a member of the DCMS Select Committee in 2003, he asked Rebekah Wade (as she then was) whether she had ever paid Police officers for information. Ms Wade replied that she had, thus admitting breaking the law. She was corrected by Andy Coulson, but the deed had been done.
Possibly as a result of this achievement, Bryant had his phone hacked by Glenn Mulcaire later the same year, and he ultimately won damages from News International. He called for the Emergency Debate that resulted in the setting up of a judge led Inquiry into the behaviour of the press, led by Lord Justice Leveson. Small wonder many in the press don’t want to talk about him.
And there’s more: Bryant has signed the Hacked Off “Leveson Declaration”. He has declared his support for properly independent press regulation. So those wanting to read the news of his appointment have to seek out publications like The Stage – not the most obvious place to look for Shadow Cabinet changes – or the Staggers, where George Eaton has picked up on the move.
This appointment means that Miliband is serious about following through from what Leveson recommended. That means “Leveson Part 2”, examining the relationship between the Police and the press, and taking forward recommendations that follow. Many in the press would rather a light not be shone there. But if Labour wins, Chris Bryant will make sure that Inquiry proceeds, whoever opposes it.
Pretending that he is a “non-person” will not stop that happening.