For just a few moments, phone hacking and Leveson drew the curtain aside on Corporate contempt for ordinary people.


Peter Oborne doesn’t hold back from nailing the arrogance of the political/media class – a picture of which only came to light because of Guardian journalist Nick Davies’ relentless pursuit of the phone hacking story.

The phone hacking affair has displayed the Prime Minister at his worst – a shallow, amoral, conniving careerist, determined to secure high office at any cost. Nevertheless, in Westminster yesterday, the general opinion seemed to be that David Cameron had got away with it, in the wake of Tuesday’s court verdicts.

…Three years have now passed since the revelation that the News of the World had hacked into the phone of the murdered Milly Dowler. It is essential to ask whether British politics has got any cleaner in the meantime.

Tragically, the answer must be no. The phone hacking scandal exposed a louche, selfish, privileged metropolitan elite at the heart of British public life. That elite still exists. Incredibly, the Chipping Norton set, of which the British Prime Minister was such a leading ornament, still flourishes.

…. The scandal has been a shameful episode that has revealed the presence of an arrogant political/media class who have been habitually contemptuous of ordinary people.


However, Peter Oborne doesn’t go the whole hog and also finger the collusion of the police, which should be the next big question. Why didn’t the police push the investigation further?

Was News International another ‘too big to fail’ organisation? No wonder, press bosses considered themselves to be untouchable if both police and politicians felt the advantages of keeping them onside.

However, an even bigger and more over-arching picture emerged during the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking.

It addresses the conundrum…

How has a shallow, amoral, conniving careerist with an equally unimpressive cabinet (see Martin Rowson’s assessment of Osborne below) been so successful in dismantling the NHS, state education and what remains of the post-war consensus for the profitable benefit of the transnational corporations and the financial sector?

Martin Rowson’s assessment of Osborne in 2010:

‘… we need to understand various things about George Osborne, this Government’s economic vandal-in-chief. First, he’s almost a victim of his own ambition…. Second, he’s actually a bit of wimp… If you combine these two aspects of his character, Osborne suddenly becomes both more and less terrifying. He’s less terrifying because it’s just an act, the calculated malevolence purely there to cow the rest of us into compliance with his programme of Thatcherite orthodoxy. However, where he becomes more terrifying is when you realise that … he really and truly doesn’t know what he’s doing ….’


How can it be that these shambolic, careless, arrogant individuals were able to supervise, let alone devise the immense sophistication of the Health and Social Care bill, the Welfare Reform bill and the Education bill?


Not only were these bills profoundly (deliberately) complicated but they were also deviously tailored to facilitate the ongoing privatization of public services… intentionally wrecking the state provision to justify the intrusion of the private sector.  In addition, there has been accompanying legislation such as the not much discussed ‘Henry VIII’ powers to abolish the quangos and the Legal Aid bill which together largely prevent challenge through the courts.

There was also an impressively synchronized timetable orchestrating the passage of these major bits of legislation, getting them swiftly in place, before the first cuts in the benefits system began to be implemented. Unarguably, the intention was to get them onto statute well before the public or MPs had a chance to fully digest their implications.

Additionally, ‘distractions’ were often choreographed to coincide with contentious legislation.  For example the proposal to sell off the forests, which was bound to cause an outcry, coincided with the first reading of Lansley’s Health and Social Care bill. Notably, the floated proposal was totally unnecessary because the Public Bodies bill, which allows the selling off of the forests without recourse to Parliament, was simultaneously going through the House of Lords.

The government’s reputation for incompetence belies the ruthless efficiency with which the policies were implemented and dovetailed seamlessly.

However, every instinct questions whether it is plausible that Lansley, Gove or IDS were the primary movers in devising their respective bills?

Can we really believe that Oliver Letwin, the dumper of official mail in a public park waste-bin, was the brains coordinating the strategy?  The last 4 years of continual ministerial ‘cock-ups’ screams that it is impossible.

Furthermore, civil servants were not the architects and can have had very limited input, because the bills were up and running so quickly after the general election.

The obvious truth is that global management consultants, such as KPMG and McKinsey, and the transnational corporations, were simply allowed free-rein to write the legislation to suit their needs … with no apparent safeguards to secure and protect the best interests of UK citizens from vested interests.

In this scenario, government ministers become simply the front men, the PR…  which would fit with why the Coalition ministers peculiarly focus on the inadequacy of the way that a criticized policy is presented. As Douglas Alexander said:

George Osborne is apologising for spin of the budget, when he should be apologising for the substance.

In fact, the incestuous relationships and carousel of jobs for politicians, civil servants, think tanks, lobbyists, donors and corporate advisors has been widely documented outside of the mainstream media (including Think Left articles such as Welfare Reform and the US Insurance Giant Unum ; Lobbyists are destroying the democratic process. ; Transnational Corporations have not let a good crisis go to waste. )

It was this incestuous web of relationships that was inadvertently revealed in the course of the Leveson Inquiry.  Gary Young summarises:

‘Britain’s political class in particular and ruling class in general collude, connive and corrupt both systemically and systematically…. The evidence has laid bare the intimate, extensive and insidious web of social, familial and personal ties between the political, corporate and legal forces that govern a country: a patchwork of individual and institutional associations so tightly interwoven that to pick at one part is to watch the whole thing unravel.’


… these interactions mock the very notion of democracy on which the nation’s illusions are based…. With the culture secretary described by Murdoch’s lobbyist as a “cheerleader” for News International, it seems as if the takeover was to all intents and purposes a done deal, prevented only by the fallout from the hacking scandal. All the kinks ironed out on horseback and settled in time for the main course. Parliament would have been a mere rubber stamp. Oversight reduced to an afterthought in a House of Commons…. 

Similarly, commenting on the Leveson evidence, Anthony Barnett concluded:

The scandal has now clarified a far more breathtaking question: is Britain governed by a big lie?

Of course there was not a “deal” in the narrow sense of a written contract…. It was a partnership … between people who decided to get into bed with each other and help each other obtain their interests at the expense of public life in Britain.

… no person of sound judgment could conclude anything other than that there was indeed a grand collaboration worked out before the election by the Murdochs and Cameron and Osborne and then implemented after it….

Any government whose duty is to secure and protect its citizens would necessarily seek to ensure that NewsCorp’s power is limited, checked by regulation and competition.

Today, how can Leveson pass judgment on the nature of the understandings reached by Rupert’s Rebecca when she went horse riding with David Cameron beyond the reach of judicial standards of proof? Without the clear evidence of the metaphorical ‘smoking gun’ to make a verdict of a conspiracy against the public interest simply unavoidable, it becomes his judgment-call to force the Prime Minister and Chancellor from office, for selling out the country with their utterly inappropriate relationships with team Murdoch. It is a power he’ll naturally resile from using….

But the bigger issue remains… It is one thing to kow-tow, to cultivate, to grant some concessions to (to seek not to make an enemy of) a man who controls 40 per cent of the press. This may be revolting but it is – or was – political reality in Britain. It is quite another to agree to reshape the all-important media environment of our democracy for the advantage of a player whose coverage is not only notorious for bias and the dishonourable destruction of people’s lives but who is also known to bribe the police and break the law.

So extrapolating from the Murdoch empire to all transnational corporations, Barnett’s words could be re-written:

But the bigger issue remains… It is one thing to kow-tow, to cultivate, to grant some concessions to (to seek not to make an enemy of) the transnational corporations and the financial sector. This may be revolting but it is – or was – political reality in Britain. It is quite another to agree to reshape the all-important public services of our democracy for the advantage of players whose primary concern is a ready, stream of profits which will doubtless end up untaxed in some offshore secrecy jurisdiction.

Without the clear evidence of the metaphorical ‘smoking gun’ to make a verdict of a conspiracy against the public interest simply unavoidable, it becomes a judgment-call to force the Prime Minister and Chancellor from office, for selling out the country with their utterly inappropriate relationships with private health providers, private employment insurers, global management consultants, private education providers and so on.

This raises fundamental questions about the nature and power of government (such as those raised by julijuxtaposed in Can we sue the Government?)

Shouldn’t there be a responsibility on political parties to spell out their intentions before they are elected?

Shouldn’t there be transparency about the authors and genesis of legislation?

Shouldn’t there be a capacity to challenge governments who have misled the electorate prior to election?  For example ‘No top down re-organisation of the NHS’ and ‘No Tuition fees’.

Shouldn’t there be a legal duty on governments to secure and protect the best interests of their citizens?

Doubtless this list is not exhaustive but the point is, that without this sort of transparency and accountability, in what way can any UK government be said to be democratically elected?  What protection is there for the electorate from a sanctioned coup d’état?

And funnily enough, just such a coup d’état is being perpetrated.

Tories plan to wipe out state services

A leading Cabinet minister has admitted that the Conservatives aim to eradicate the state provision of public services in this country. Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister and a former banker, in an extraordinary gung-ho speech to Policy Exchange to mark 10 years of the centre-right think tank, said the Government wants to end state provision – even if it means they end up being run by private equity companies from tax havens…. The speech comes as David Cameron’s Government is embarking on a controversial programme to extend privatisation way beyond Margaret Thatcher’s wildest dreams – to Britain’s road network and even the police.


Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, said: “Far from being done by mutual consent, the Government’s plans rest on imposing unpopular ideas on an unwilling workforce.”  At the same time, Professor Prem Sikka reports that Britain’s rate of wealth transference from employees and the state to corporations is unmatched in any developed country.

And the cherry on top of the cake, is that the Tory/LD coalition is desperate to push through the EU-US trade agreement (TTIP or TAFTA) before May 2015 – an agreement which is intended to lock in future governments so that they cannot reverse any of those privatisations… a charter for the corporations which places their rights above sovereign nations and the democratic process.

Are we already in the Post-democratic era?

Nick Davies’ investigative zeal did not just uncover the perfidy of the phone hackers. It led right to the top and even went global – the neoliberal aim of replacing democracy with corporatism – the merging of state and corporate power. Or as most people call it fascism.

Related posts:

Recipe for Ruin: TTIP the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

EU-US FTA, TAFTA, TTIP – whatever its name, it means bad news for 99%

The Top Secret Deal You Need to Know About


Updated and amended from original post in 2012

Where is this ‘Free press’ that needs protecting? Does it report the reality of Welfare Reform and Climate Warming?


Having endured another few days of bleating about 300 y of the ‘free’ press, I’m impelled to ask ‘free’ from what/whom?  ‘Free’ from their super-wealthy owners?  ‘Free’ from their corporate links?  ‘Free’ from the diktats of their advertisers?  ‘Free’ from partisan political reporting?

And for whom, are they ‘free’?

We are told that our democracy depends on access to the ‘free’ press … but with notable exceptions, the mainstream media (MSM) just reflects the obvious existing power structures.

Of the 21 national daily and Sunday titles – 62% support the Conservatives; 19%, the Liberal Democrats or centre-left; 14% are social-democratic and only The Morning Star could be said to report a left-wing agenda. Whilst the Mirror group consistently supports the Labour party, the Guardian has always been a Liberal paper with a fair sprinkling of Labour-supporting articles.  This spread is hardly a reflection of the opinion polls and there is virtually no representation to the left of what is perceived to be the ‘centre’ ground.

In addition, it seems obvious that rather than inform:

The real mass media are basically trying to divert people. Let them do something else, but don’t bother us (us being the people who run the show)…. Let everybody be crazed about professional sports or sex scandals or the personalities and their problems or something like that. (1)

And who are the journalists feeding their copy into the ‘free’ press?  Over 50% were privately educated unlike 93% of the general public … and how many attended the incestuous, hot-house of Oxbridge, being educated and socialising with the very politicians, judges, public ‘intellectuals’ and the super-rich who constitute the ‘power elite’, that they, as journalists, are supposed to hold to account?

Those of you who have been through college know that the educational system is very highly geared to rewarding conformity and obedience; if you don’t do that, you are a troublemaker. So, it is kind of a filtering device which ends up with people who really honestly (they aren’t lying) internalize the framework of belief and attitudes of the surrounding power system in the society….

[Journalists] say, quite correctly, “nobody ever tells me what to write. I write anything I like. All this business about pressures and constraints is nonsense because I’m never under any pressure.”   Which is completely true, but the point is that they wouldn’t be there unless they had already demonstrated that nobody has to tell them what to write because they are going say the right thing. … The same is mostly true of university faculty in the more ideological disciplines. They have been through the socialization system(1)

Moreover, all of the above, presupposes that there is an adequate level of competence, knowledge base and honest intent from journalists and their editors … the questioning of which led to the Leveson judicial review. Chris Dillow at Stumbling and Mumbling highlights this, when he refutes the Daily Mail’s claim, … that benefit spending accounts for 24.2% of “Britain’s total income” is as truthful as we’d expect from the Mail – which is to say ‘utter bollocks.’ (2)

Executive editor and editorial director of Guardian Sustainable Business, Jo Confino asks the question ‘Why are journalists failing to hold firms to account over sustainability?’  He answers himself:Ownership structures and old-fashioned thinking means social and environmental performance is not challenged by the media.’ (3)

However, with a valiant attempt at optimism, he also writes:

One of the reasons I work at the Guardian is because I believe we are different….  The simple truth is that the media sector can be either part of the solution or part of the problem. At the moment, it is largely the latter, overwhelming us with tittle tattle and further embedding a culture of consumption.

What comes to mind is the image of the orchestra playing ragtime and waltzes as the Titanic started to sink.

Those with disability and long-term illness can certainly identify with the description of the Titanic sinking, particularly when faced with the further £10bn of Welfare cuts which is likely to be included in George Osborne’s Autumn Review.

The current negative and scurrilous reporting about benefits and benefit claimants is nothing short of scandalous. Apart from Polly Toynbee in the Guardian, there has been virtually no comprehensive or rigorous analysis of the likely impacts of the Welfare Reform bill and the Universal Benefits programme in the ‘free’ press.

Turn2us commissioned a major academic research study assessing the impact of stigma and other social influences on those applying for benefits. The study’s analysis of media coverage of benefits, in national newspapers (1995 to 2011), found that while newspapers contained both positive and negative representations of claimants, the content of press stories was indeed skewed towards negative representations.  Furthermore, they found that both the language and content of ‘negative’ coverage had changed substantially over time.

While fraud remains very important in negative coverage,  articles are much more likely now to refer to lack of reciprocity and effort on the part of claimants than they were previously. (4)

In other words, the contents of recent negative press stories were skewed towards the Tory/LD’s agenda which is essentially the Victorian cliché of ‘deserving, hardworking families’ and an ‘undeserving, feckless poor’.  It is the ‘fault’ of the unemployed for not having a job. It is suggested that they are lazy, scrounging and taking society for a ‘ride’ whilst those on Disability benefits are portrayed as probably ‘swinging the lead’.

However, it is a simple matter for journalists to determine the reality of these charges.  Government’s own figures estimate benefit fraud at less than 0.5%; the numbers seeking work are five times the number of vacancies; most benefit claimants have been employed and paid into the system; and that overwhelmingly people in receipt of housing benefit are in work, albeit low-waged.

Michael Meacher writes that the proper role and rationale of a free press is to maintain a properly functioning democracy:

…its real objectives should be twofold: to keep the electorate fully informed about the key issues that affect Britain and thus to provide a genuine national agenda, and secondly to speak truth to power and thus to lay the foundations for systematically holding the government of the day to account.   With some honourable exceptions Britain’s media have fallen far short of these democratic responsibilities. (5)

Clearly, with respect to Benefits and Welfare reform, our so-called ‘free’ press has in large part failed on both counts.  Similarly, Jo Confino finds the press failing to hold firms to account over sustainability, and this is seems likely to be representative of criticism across the whole spectrum of political reporting.

Michael Meacher warns:

Prepare for weeks of vilification of Leveson and the lampooning of his position as the voice of censorship.   We are already seeing that when it comes to the struggle for power and the capacity for dominance over the State and its ideology, the methods are ruthless, the lies are vicious, the cries of the victims and the mistreated count for very little. (6)

Two things are clear.  Firstly, that Cameron believes that it is imperative to back the press barons if he is to stand any chance of winning in 2015.  Secondly, that there are very good reason why corporations like News International and super-wealthy individuals like the Barclay brothers, want to own papers in spite of their lack of profitability.  The reason has nothing to do with the romance of ‘loving newspapers’ or ‘newspapers being in their blood’.  It has everything to do with holding the power to intimidate (and control) politicians, and with their capacity to set the news agenda:

“Even if the [media] does not mold our every opinion, it does mold our opinion visibility; it can frame the perceptual limits around which our opinions take shape. Here may lie the most important effect of the news media: they set the agenda for the rest of us, choosing what to emphasize and what to ignore or suppress, in effect, organizing much of our political world for us. The media may not always be able to tell us what to think, but they are strikingly successful in telling us what to think about … the media teach us tunnel vision conditioning us to perceive the problems of society as isolated particulars, thereby stunting our critical vision. Larger casualties are reduced to immediately distinct events, while the linkages of wealth, power and policy go unreported or are buried under a congestion of surface impressions and personalities.

In sum, the media set the limits on public discourse. They may not always mold opinion, but they do not always have to. It is enough that they create opinion visibility, giving legitimacy to certain views and illegitimacy to others … This power to determine the issue agenda, the information flow, and the parameters of political debate so that it extends from ultra-right to no further than moderate center is, if not total, still totally awesome.”

Inventing Reality Michael Parenti

I have no doubt that Leveson is sincere in wanting a free press in the public interest, and that he was at all times considering the public interest.  However, my doubt is that a truly ‘free’ press can be constituted when the crucial issues of ownership and concentration of ownership are ignored (7) – regardless of whether it has statutory underpinning or not. Furthermore, the proposal is that it will be regulated by another committee, which will doubtless comprise ‘the great and the good’, albeit from the non-media power elite… so expect more of the same homogeneity of attitudes and assumptions.

If governments really took the democratic role of the local and national press seriously, it would not rely on a ‘market’ solution as the means of  ‘keeping the electorate fully informed about the key issues that affect Britain, providing a genuine national agenda, and to speak truth to power’.  It is the ‘market’ which is putting both the MSM and local media under enormous staffing and financial pressures.   As Nick Davies writes in his book ‘Flat Earth news’… ‘the average Fleet Street journalist now is filling three times as much space as he or she was in 1985’.

Where once journalists were active gatherers of news, now they have generally become mere passive processors of unchecked, second-hand material, much of it contrived by PR to serve some political or commercial interest. Not journalists, but churnalists. An industry whose primary task is to filter out falsehood has become so vulnerable to manipulation that it is now involved in the mass production of falsehood, distortion and propaganda. (8)

There is, therefore, a good democratic case for some sort of arms-length government funding, particularly of local newspapers… the obvious comparison is with the BBC but given its current inadequacies (9) (10), I would prefer comparison with the World Service which at least offers some background information and a critique of current economic dogma.  I would also argue for the political perspective of individual journalists and the newspaper to be indicated at the beginning of every article.  This could easily be achieved by using the political compass (11) and would place their writing within its subjective context.

How would we know if the press was moving in the right direction?  That’s easy.  When we read that there are alternatives to Mrs Thatcher’s neoclassical economics.  That climate warming is not some sort of optional faith-based belief system but a reality which needs to be urgently addressed.  And that it was a banking crisis, not government spending which increased the national debt and furthermore, we do not need to borrow from private banks to create full employment.

In the meantime, let’s just agree to stop confusing the issue by calling the current state of the press ‘free’.