PM haunted by phone hacking

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EVEN THOUGH David Cameron promised a “full and frank” apology if his former spin doctor Andy Coulson was convicted of phone hacking charges, the Prime Minister’s embarrassment was plain to see as one of the most ill-advised appointments of his political career returned to haunt him.

EVEN THOUGH David Cameron promised a “full and frank” apology if his former spin doctor Andy Coulson was convicted of phone hacking charges, the Prime Minister’s embarrassment was plain to see as one of the most ill-advised appointments of his political career returned to haunt him.

At least Mr Cameron did not dodge this issue. His unreserved apology was full of contrition. So, too, was his contempt for a former close colleague who had reassured the Tories that he had not been complicit in hacking – an unforgivable invasion of personal privacy which continues to have far-reaching repercussions for the media industry.

Even though the Prime Minister was not alone in being deceived by Coulson, the decision to appoint the former News of the World editor in 2007 – at a time when the newspaper’s ethics were coming under increased scrutiny – was totally misjudged and symptomatic of the extent to which the Tories, and also Labour, had been in thrall to Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. This over-friendly relationship was illustrated by Mr Cameron using the acronym “Lol” at the end of text messages to his friend Rebekah Brooks, the exonerated News International boss, and it is these vignettes from the Old Bailey which will resonate most of all with voters.

Yet the public also need to appreciate that there is a world of difference between the illegal methods pursued to access the Royal family’s phone messages or establish tittle-tattle about David Blunkett’s personal life, and the important, lawful investigations conducted by this newspaper – and others – to expose wrongdoing in public office.

As Labour prepare an all-out attack on Mr Cameron’s credibility at Prime Minister’s Questions today, it should heed the words of the aforementioned Mr Blunkett on the opposite page. He says that “no one should misinterpret what has happened as an indictment of a free Press or of the professionalism of most trained and dedicated journalists” while Sir Bernard Ingham insists that “a healthy democracy needs a vigorous, probing local press that feels strong enough to stand up to authority”. Both men are right.

A contradiction

Osborne and Yorkshire funding

NO LESS than an authority as Michael Heseltine hailed George Osborne’s speech on transforming the North into an economic powerhouse as one of the most profound interventions made by a serving Chancellor of the Exchequer in recent years.

Perhaps Lord Heseltine, a longstanding architect of plans to regenerate Britain’s deprived inner cities, may have been more measured if he was fully aware of the Treasury’s reluctance to agree funding for the Leeds City Region’s transport plan to make the area more attractive to employers.

Two years after the deal was agreed, the plan has still to be signed off, despite Mr Osborne using his keynote address on Monday to make a virtue of the Government’s decision to devolve decision-making powers to the great cities of the North.

This is reflected by the rueful tone of a joint letter sent to the Chancellor by Roger Marsh, chairman of the Leeds City Region Economic Partnership, and Councillors Andrew Carter and Robert Light – two Tory politicians who are steeped in local government.

They have invited Mr Osborne to a meeting to discuss this impasse “in light of much slower progress than any of us would have wished to see”. Given that the Chancellor has been accused of political opportunism over his HS3 rail plan, this is a gilt-edged chance for him to put his new-found commitment to the North into practice. He needs to take it.

England humbled

Is cycling our new national sport?

HOW TIMES change. England’s travails yesterday against the sporting minnows of Costa Rica and Sri Lanka show how much ground has been lost by this country’s football and cricket sides.

It was summed up when Roy Hodgson’s footballers trooped off the pitch after a scoreless first half and ITV presenter Adrian Chiles suggested: “We’re quite happy with that.” Costa Rica are hardly a team of Lionel Messis. Meanwhile, some belated defiance by England’s cricketers at Headingley will not silence one Geoffrey Boycott who maintains that Alastair Cook’s form and captaincy is a “recipe for resignation”.

At least there is the Tour de France on the horizon – and the professionalism of Team Sky, whose riders were undertaking another reconnaissance mission in Yorkshire yesterday. Nothing is left to chance by an organisation that is always looking to the future under Sir Dave Brailsford.

Football and cricket could learn much from Britain’s new national sport.