19 Jul 2011

David Cameron dinner with James Murdoch 'broke the ministers’ code'

Even the right wing Daily Telegraph seem to have the knives out for David Cameron, just how much longer can he hang onto his job, surely he must go now? 

Phone hacking: David Cameron dinner with James Murdoch 'broke the ministers’ code'

David Cameron has been reported to the country’s most senior civil servant for allegedly breaching the ministerial code.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister.
David Cameron, the Prime Minister. Photo: EPA
John Mann, a backbench Labour MP, wrote to Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, to accuse the Prime Minister of breaking rules over an alleged conflict of interest in relation to the bid by News Corporation for the remaining shares it did not own in BSkyB. If he is found to have breached the code, Mr Cameron could be referred to Sir Philip Mawer, the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on ministers’ interests, who would investigate further.
However, it is not clear how the complaint would be handled because the rules state that the Prime Minister has to decide if there is a case to answer.
The Daily Telegraph disclosed yesterday that David and Samantha Cameron shared a family dinner with James Murdoch, the deputy chief operating officer of News Corporation, and his wife Kathryn, and Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International, and her husband Charlie on December 23 last year.
Two days previously, Mr Cameron had removed decision-making powers over the BSkyB bid from Vince Cable after the Business Secretary made unguarded comments that he had “gone to war” with Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp.
Mr Mann’s letter to Sir Gus suggested that Mr Cameron had broken the ministerial code. “I write to urge you to consider investigating whether David Cameron MP has breached section 1 of the Ministerial Code,” he wrote.
“Section 1.2.f of the code states: ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests.
“It is therefore incumbent on the Prime Minister to avoid both actual or the appearance of a conflict of interest between decisions he should make as Prime Minister and his close personal relationship with Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch.
“A breach of the code appears to have arisen, please investigate.”
The code states that “if there is an allegation about a breach of the code, and the Prime Minister, having consulted the Cabinet Secretary, believes it warrants further investigation, he will refer the matter to the independent adviser on ministers’ interests”.
Mr Mann said: “This is an insult to the general public’s intelligence and it shows an extraordinary inter-connectivity between News International and the Prime Minister.
“The ministerial code is very straightforward and he indeed signed the foreword of the most recent version.
He has clearly broken the code and I am sure that we can expect appropriate action to be taken by the Cabinet Secretary and a grovelling apology on Wednesday.
“Not only is the Prime Minister responsible for ensuring that all ministers abide by the code, but he is expected to uphold the highest of propriety.”
In the foreword to the code, Mr Cameron wrote last May of how the Government had a responsibility “to rebuild confidence in our political system”.
“After the scandals of recent years, people have lost faith in politics and politicians,” he wrote. “It is our duty to restore their trust.”
He said it was important that ministers were “transparent about what we do and how we do it”.
A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said Sir Gus had not yet received the letter and “will respond in due course”.

By Andrew Gilligan7:30AM BST 19 Jul 2011
It was on July 8 1961 that the War Minister, John Profumo, first met Christine Keeler, swimming naked in the pool at Cliveden. Fifty years later, to the exact day, came the arrest of David Cameron’s former press secretary, Andy Coulson, on suspicion of phone-hacking and corruption.
Another establishment is crumbling; another Tory government has been shaken by its entrancement with people of apparent low repute.
The parallels, in some respects, are striking. The Cliveden set, showgirls, prostitutes and their patron Stephen Ward, mixed with ministers in their cottages in Buckinghamshire. The Chipping Norton set, tabloid journalists and owners, mixed with ministers in their cottages in Oxfordshire.
And then came the mad political frenzy, everyone piling in, pulling down the good with the bad, treating the misdemeanours and the high crimes alike. So at this time, in which nothing seems safe, the next question may become: will Andy Coulson be for David Cameron what Christine Keeler was for Harold Macmillan?
In the Niagara of resignations swamping all news outlets, the only place not to have suffered any downsizing has been politics. But yesterday, for the first time in his six-year leadership, Mr Cameron was asked by a journalist if he was considering his position.
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“I feel I have been out there… making sure that Britain gets to the bottom of what has been a terrible episode in terms of what newspapers have done,” he said. “And also some very big questions about potential police corruption; we need to get to the bottom of those.”
Notice the one culprit that Cameron left out? But this is more and more a story about that culprit, politics. Yesterday, too, Boris Johnson, Mr Cameron’s rival, was notably ungiving when asked if he backed his leader over Coulson. “I’m not here to discuss government appointments,” he said. Boris was not alone: few Tory MPs would come out to defend Cameron yesterday.
The atmosphere on the prime ministerial plane – he is on a two-day trip to Africa, hastily shortened from four days – is described by one of those on board as “bad”. Cameron only heard about Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation eight minutes before Sir Paul announced it.
Stuck in the air, with limited secure satphone facilities, the Prime Minister found himself forced to use one of Virgin Atlantic’s seat-back phones – the kind you swipe your credit card through, with a GameBoy handset on the other side – to communicate with London. A full statement on Sir Paul was not made until 10pm, almost three hours after he quit.
“They were all over the place,” says one reporter following the tour. “No one really wants to be here, but they can’t figure out a way of getting us back without looking like idiots.”
Vast amounts of the programme, including visits to two entire countries, have now been junked so that Mr Cameron can watch today’s Commons media committee hearing with Rupert and James Murdoch, then get back in time for a specially extended session of the Commons tomorrow.
One Tory backbencher told the BBC it looked as if the Prime Minister was “fleeing the country”. That’s unfair – the trip has been planned for months – but it’s what you get when everyone loses their heads.
In the absence of damning new facts linking Mr Cameron to the actual wrongdoing, the PM’s handlers regard questions about his position as ridiculous – and, for the moment, they are. But the original sin – Coulson – has already been committed.
Profumo took two grinding years to bring down the prime minister, two years of drip-drip revelations and gradually declining authority. As the inquiries grind on, more is certain to emerge. So how did it come to this?
George Eustice, now a Tory MP, was Mr Cameron’s press secretary until 2008. He says that Cameron genuinely believes in holding the press at arms’ length, and indeed did so for the first two years of his leadership. “When I was his press secretary, we pursued a deliberate strategy of quietly puncturing the arrogance of both editors and proprietors,” he says.
“It was our settled position that, if David Cameron were invited to speak at Rupert Murdoch’s annual conference for editors [à la Blair], he would have politely declined in order to send a signal that Murdoch’s power was not recognised.”
In 2007, however, Gordon Brown’s arrival as prime minister, together with squabbles over grammar schools, caused a collapse in the Tories’ poll ratings, and deep anxiety in the inner circle.
Brown, for all his self-justification now, had aggressively courted the Right-wing press and the Tory high command decided on a complete change of tack.
At the initiative of the then shadow chancellor, George Osborne, Cameron decided to hire Andy Coulson, a man whose previous principal contribution to political journalism was to ask Tony Blair whether he and Cherie had joined the mile-high club.
Other Coulson scoops included persuading Stephen Gately, of the pop group Boyzone, to reveal that he was gay, and feeding rivals a bum steer that Paula Yates was having a rib removed for cosmetic reasons.
“Osborne was actually quite overawed about how close he [Osborne] was to the Murdochs,” says a Tory strategist (not Eustice). “He would boast to colleagues that he had been invited to Elisabeth Murdoch’s party and that he had had dinner with James.
"He sold Coulson in hard. He unashamedly talked of making a study of Blair’s success and copying everything Blair had done, including building relations with Murdoch.”
It worked too, at least initially. Coulson started wooing proprietors and editors, Murdoch ones especially, and produced a raft of tabloid-pleasing policy initiatives on things such as knife crime.
Like most red-top journalists, he was not personally the reptile of public caricature and he won the respect of party staff.
Tory fortunes revived, though this was due more to Gordon Brown’s “election that never was”. Statements such as “David Cameron doesn’t deserve his poll lead” disappeared from the Sun. Eustice and another Tory staffer, George Bridges, left.
Before, according to Tory insiders, Mr Cameron had been briefed against by News International for spending only 15 minutes at its summer party. Now, it was intimate country dinners and walks in the woods with Andy, Rebekah, James and, er, Jeremy Clarkson.
In fact, it is the Top Gear presenter and Murdoch columnist who has given us the only account so far of the now famous pre-Christmas meal with the Camerons and Rebekah Brooks at her Chipping Norton house.
“A policeman knocked at the door and Rebekah gave him a wad of cash,” he joked. “Rupert Murdoch joined us on a live video feed from his private volcano, stroking a white cat.”
This story probably won’t destroy Cameron on its own. Harold Macmillan was the fag-end of 13 tired Tory years. Cameron is a new prime minister with credit in the bank.
Voters care about phone-hacking far less than Westminster; their focus at the next election will be the NHS and the economy.
But the difficulty, perhaps, is that this story undermines Cameron’s authority to talk about those things, too – especially problematic with the economy doing poorly. The Prime Minister’s personal brand is at risk.
He has always worried that he is seen as too distant from ordinary people. But while no one much minded his being posh, they might well mind his associations with sleazy posh.
Christmas is supposed to be a time when you can throw it all off and be with the people who really matter to you. Why was Cameron spending it with tabloid journalists? Why must we rely on Jeremy Clarkson for an account of what appear to be important political relationships?
George Eustice says that the scandal has “reunited David Cameron with his natural instincts” about distance from the papers. But Cameron’s sudden change of tack in 2007 raises all the old questions about his genuineness and fixity of purpose: questions that are also relevant, with his string of U-turns, to his handling of the country.


viv said...

“After the scandals of recent years, people have lost faith in politics and politicians,” he wrote. “It is our duty to restore their trust.”
He said it was important that ministers were “transparent about what we do and how we do it”.

(David Cameron)

And yet, so soon into this man winning the election we are into the biggest political scandal I can ever remember.

Do the right thing Mr Cameron and learn to be adopt your own words instead of just trotting them out whilst laughing up your sleeve.

I am sure we all tried to give you the benefit of the doubt, but!

viv said...

Hey Di, you did not call me Mystic Meg for nothing, I mentioned the Profumo affair a few days ago and now the press have caught up and also see the paralells!

viv said...

Josh Rosenburg takes an interesting look at the law on contempt and the right to a fair trial in the context of will the red haired one answer the questions this afternoon. Maybe they will let her have a lawyer present.

Maybe an arrest is what has shut Gerry, Kate and the papers up, we can live in hope of that great day!