I don’t want to dampen your expectations, but this afternoon’s debate on the phone hacking scandal may generate more heat than light. Prepare yourself for endless statements of support for the families of Milly Dowler, Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells – all well meant, I’m sure, but what else can we expect? Powerful contributions from Chris Bryant and Tom Watson – absolutely, but it’s unlikely that there’ll many others who will have the courage to support them. A public inquiry? Not until after the police have finished their investigations, and Jeremy Hunt is not going to budge on his BSKyB decision – it has to dealt with in ‘a correct legal way’ – as David Cameron put it yesterday.
Spare a thought for our poor MPs though, they’re a very confused and frightened bunch. Having been ‘warned off’ by Murdoch’s henchmen, they’ve been frightened into silence, hardly daring to mention Murdoch’s name or even think about BSkyB, lest their transgressions be revealed. It may be a very unimpressive, badly attended debate this afternoon. Few of the ‘timorous wee beasties’ prepared to put their head above the parapet. We’ll see.
Don’t despair! The fact that the debate is taking place at all is a breakthrough. Why? Because it’s about more than the hacking scandal. The hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone has done what Rupert Murdoch was trying to avoid. It’s grabbed the public’s attention and set him up as a villain. Now there’s a hunger for his blood and a desire for his downfall. What’s more, the true extent of his power and his influence over our democratic process is going to be laid bare.
And our feckless politicians, where do they stand in all this? They were the ones who became frustrated by the tedious parliamentary and judicial checks and balances of our political system. They wanted a more effective way of engaging directly with the people. It was our so-called ‘governing elite’ who decided to forge an alliance with the media. The problem is that over time this relationship changed. The media has become more than just a tool of government, it has become a part of government.
Today government announcements are just as likely to be made through the media as Parliament. Cabinet decisions now take into account the views newspaper proprietors as much as the interests of the electorate. Without a ‘by your leave’, and with scant regard for the consequences of their actions, politicians have weakened our representative democracy to such an extent that Rupert Murdoch is often referred to as the 33rd member of the Cabinet.
What I hope the hacking scandal debate will do is to alert the public to the extent of Rupert Murdoch’s power. I hope it will help them to realise just how much his influence has distorted our democratic process – and how they have been betrayed by a very unwise, self-serving political class.