September 28, 2020

Tabloid Scandal a Fresh Threat to Cameron’s Survival

Mr. Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, agreed to return hurriedly Monday from Africa to hold a special session of Parliament on Wednesday. He did so after coming under renewed assault from a reinvigorated Labour Party, which has repeatedly pressed him to explain in more detail his decision to hire Andy Coulson, the former editor of the now-defunct News of the World, as his communications director.

His close personal ties to Rebekah Brooks, the former head of News International and a confidante of Mr. Murdoch, are also under scrutiny. Both Mr. Coulson and Ms. Brooks have been arrested in a widening probe into hacking the phones of British celebrities, government officials, members of the royal family and victims of high-profile crimes and terrorist attacks.

Beyond the immediate politics, there was a growing sense across the country that the crisis had raised fundamental questions about the culture of collusion between politicians and the press and revealed a deeper malaise in British life that could dominate the national political scene for months or years to come.

Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour opposition, delivered a broadside against Mr. Cameron on Monday that sought to tap into the public outrage over the scandal by linking it to a series of crises in recent years — the role of the banks in the financial crisis that hit in 2008, the furor over lawmakers’ expense abuses in 2009 and now the tabloid scandal. Commentators said his goal was to weaken Mr. Cameron’s coalition government if the scandal continues to escalate, and to cast himself as a credible alternate prime minister should Mr. Cameron fall.

Mr. Miliband said the prime minister “hasn’t even apologized for hiring Mr. Coulson” and that he was “hamstrung” by his association with his former media chief and Ms. Brooks, who were among the Murdoch executives that Mr. Cameron has admitted to meeting almost twice a month during his 15 months in office. He said the country “needs leadership to get to the bottom of what happened” — a code, as some commentators saw it, for suggesting that Mr. Cameron may have to quit before the scandal has run its course.

The parade of casualties from the scandal continued to lengthen one day after the head of Scotland Yard resigned, when one of his deputies, John Yates, also stepped down. The investigation also took a grim turn when Sean Hoare, a former reporter in his mid-40s who was the first to say publicly that Mr. Coulson was aware of the widespread “phone hacking” at News of the World when he was the paper’s editor, was found dead in his north London home. The police said they did not initially regard the death as suspicious.

Mr. Hoare’s interview implicating Mr. Coulson in a New York Times magazine article last fall was one of the factors, the police have said, that prompted them to reopen an investigation into The News of the World after the probe had brought convictions and jail sentences for two men then faltered, with Scotland Yard officers saying there was nothing more to pursue.

Top police officials and senior executives of News Corporation, including Rupert and James Murdoch and Ms. Brooks, are scheduled to appear before parliamentary committee hearings on Tuesday that many expect to be part of a lengthy and open-ended inquiry into the origins of the phone hacking, the legal culpability of News Corporation officials, the failure of the police to uncover the full extent of the hacking and the connections between Mr. Murdoch’s empire and senior British politicians.

Mr. Miliband, widely viewed as a weak rival to Mr. Cameron until the recent revelations about the extent of phone hacking emerged this month, appeared to view the matters as weighty enough to form a new platform for Labour, issuing a sonorous call that sounded like a promising election plank.

“We have to ask ourselves deeper questions,” he said. “What does it say about our country? How did we let this happen? And how do we change to ensure that this does not happen again?” He said all the recent scandals in British life were caused by a lack of accountability among those in high places. “All are about the irresponsibility of the powerful, people who believed they were untouchable,” like the Murdoch executives who ran the company’s newspapers in Britain, he said.

Sarah Lyall, Jo Becker and Alan Cowell contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/19/world/europe/19hacking.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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