(C)all the President’s Men?

There is a scene in the Oscar-winning movie All the President’s Men where Robert Redford’s Bob Woodward leaves a late night car park meeting with his now famous informer ‘Deep Throat’, and simply runs. Music builds to a crescendo and the reporter turns, dramatically, to find no-one is trailing him. Such was the climate of fear surrounding his investigation into the Watergate Scandal that his informant had warned him they may have been followed.

Rupert Murdoch

Has Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. fatally damaged the British government? Photograph: Ebeling Heffernan

When the likes of Hugh Grant and John Prescott alleged a few years ago that reporters had hacked their phones, it was perhaps easy for the British public, aided by the incompetent findings of the Metropolitan Police, to dismiss it as the paranoid complaints of a celebrity and a controversial politician. It has, of course, emerged since then that not only were the phones of high-profile figures hacked into, but so were those of members of the public, from Milly Dowler to the families of 9/11 victims. Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

The recent developments have led some to label the News of the World scandal ‘Cameron’s Watergate’, and though that seems hyperbolic, other similarities are evident. From what, at first, seemed fairly inconsequential illegal activity, the scope of allegations and involvement has grown exponentially. The integrity and competence of law enforcement have been called into serious doubt. While the illegal activity is, in and of itself, serious, attempts to cover it up may prove more so. Perhaps, though, most significantly, the country’s political leader stands accused of, at best, bad judgement over the actions of those in his employment.

Mr. Cameron, though, is no Richard Nixon. He stands accused of misleading the public over exactly what he knew of Andy Coulson’s alleged criminal actions before taking him to Downing Street, but that cannot compare to Nixon’s deliberate cover-up of the criminal activity of those under his employment, in order to illegally advantage him. While Watergate’s disclosure relied so heavily upon the press investigating corrupt politicians and law officials, the News Of The World scandal is, of course, a case of the corrupt practices of the media itself. Unfortunately, neither politicians nor the police acted sufficiently to fit the metaphor of this as some sort of reverse Watergate, and so it fell upon other sections of the British press, notably the Guardian, to huff and puff until they could blow Rupert Murdoch’s house  – or at least the door – in.

This absence of clear political leadership, with the Prime Minister forced to defend himself against accusations of guilt by association, left a void in urgent need of being filled. Clearly unwilling to see Hugh Grant step up following his Question Time cameo, Labour Leader Ed Milliband harnessed all his potential for righteous indignance, previously so wasted on PMQs, and took a lead. Though it must be said that this more closely resembles a Formula 1 driver capitalising on their leading opponents having crashed, than performing a series of impressive overtaking manoeuvres. Facing incessant doubts about his leadership abilities, his stance on the recent strikes led many to castigate him as out of touch with the public from both left and right. Now, though, Mr. Miliband’s words and the way in which he has spoken them, with an added shake of the head and wag of the finger for maximum effect, have seemingly struck a chord. As he demanded a judge-led inquiry, the sacking or resignation of Rebekah Brooks and the referral to OFCOM of News Corporation’s now withdrawn BSKYB bid; Mr. Cameron appeared to lag behind, only catching up once Mr. Miliband had been given time to express his dissatisfaction that the Prime Minister was out of kilter and he himself was the new barometer of public feelings on matters that are ‘just not good enough’.

Though the Labour Party themselves may be guilty of questionable media relationships and a lack of action on phone hacking while in power, Mr. Miliband may now be relishing the fact that they no longer rule. With great power, it is said, comes great responsibility. In the absence of both, Ed Miliband has become the champion of both the powerless and the irresponsible, those who neither have to, nor are willing, to engage in the difficult realities of governance. Ironically, his actions in doing so have, for the first time perhaps, raised the possibility that he may, one day, be forced to carry that burden of responsibility. For now, though, he will continue to make hay while the Prime Minister struggles beneath the weight of his own issues.

This may not be Mr. Cameron’s Watergate, but it may well be Mr. Milliband’s watershed.


Posted on July 14, 2011, in Coalition Government, Comment, Labour Party, Looking Forward and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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