While everyone the Tory Party can muster does the rounds of the broadcasters this weekend, telling anyone who will listen that Labour’s manifesto commitment to 10,000 more Police officers means there would be more terrorism, there is one item in the Tory manifesto - and I’m not talking about social care this time - that those talking heads would rather no-one talked about. Because it might be very awkward for them.
A commitment has been given to not only repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which was a key component of the post-Leveson press regulation overhaul, but also to scrap Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry, which would have looked at the relationship between press and Police, and the potential for such relationships to become corrupted. For this to look credible, the press has to look like it’s keeping its house in order.
The problem for both press and Tories is that an increasing number of people know full well that the press has not been keeping its house in order, and that there are a number of variously embarrassing revelations either out there already, or in the pipeline and with a delivery timescale in the imminent category. On top of that is the steady procession of court cases, the subject of one of those being phone hacking.
Hacking never really went away, like all the other “dark arts” described in Flat Earth News, Nick Davies’ go-to book on the workings of the Fourth Estate. And hacking not only by the now defunct Murdoch Screws, but also the still-extant Sun, is now the subject of legal action which has been joined by a lengthening list of well-known individuals.
That much is bad for the press: what is also bad for the Tories is not only that they are prepared to do the ultimate Faustian deal and look the other way in exchange for the support they hope will carry them back into power, but that the hacking revelations on the way will show that they made a most unwise decision in cosying up to the tabloids.
The revelation that shows just how unwise the Tories have been has been made by the investigations team at Byline Media, who have testimony from former Screws hack Paul “privacy is for paedos” McMullan. He claims that the twinkle-toed yet domestically combative Rebekah Brooks (or Wade as she was then) was, despite claiming otherwise in the Hacking Trial, well aware that stories were coming from hacked phone messages.
After telling “She tricked a jury into believing she was far too above the nitty gritty of day-to-day journalism to know that phone hacking had ever gone on and certainly she had never sanctioned it and she was let off scot-free”, Mc Mullen added “I was made Deputy Features Editor … It means that now I know exactly what Rebekah was told about every story that came from every illegal act, either by a private investigator we hired or by journalists themselves”. That’s most interesting. Do go on.
“When anybody walked into the newspaper office on Tuesday morning conference when Rebekah was Features Editor and put up a story idea her first question was, ‘where did you get it?’ … And the journalist would then tell her, and she would demand to listen to the tape and quite often that tape would have to be transcribed and sent down to legal (department) or at least locked away with the tape in the reporter’s drawer”.
There is also talk of mass email deletion, attempts to pervert the course of justice, and news that a whole host of those involved with the last days of the Screws are being investigated to see if any or all of them have evidence linking them to hacking.
This comes on top of the revelations about the Mail titles’ continued use of PI Steve Whittamore, even after he was busted in the raid which we now know as Operation Motorman. The Tories are promising to ignore all of that, should they win next month.
So Theresa May and her team would no doubt hope that there are no more of those nasty revelations to come. Well, let me put it this way. The raft of stories has come from Byline Media. Next weekend is the Byline Festival. What better way to showcase independent journalism than to have that festival make another of those revelations?
What that might be I do not know. But neither do the Tories and their pals. And by next weekend, it will be close to the General Election, but not so close for the electorate to be unable to take it on board before they vote. I’ll just leave that one there.