By John Charles Dyer, UK Correspondent
15 Jun 2012. Leveson closed a week of hearings from Prime Ministers and would be Prime Ministers with the testimony of David Cameron. Of much revelatory testimony and commentary, one exchange stands out as the single most revealing illustration of the current condition of British politics and, by analogy, American.
But first ...
Prime Minister David Cameron inadvertently revealed “the smoking gun” to thunderous laughter
Cameron’s appointment of Culture Secretary Hunt to review the B Sky B bid is a bone of contention.
This week, Parliament debated an opposition motion demanding independent review of Hunt’s conduct. The motion lost, but it lost only because Liberal Democrats abstained rather than vote their position that Hunt’s conduct should be independently reviewed.
Debate focused on the question whether or not Hunt misled Parliament.
Hunt told Parliament he had not interceded on behalf of the bid during the time Business Secretary Vince Cable reviewed it prior to Hunt taking over. But Hunt had, in fact, sent Cameron an internal memo supporting the bid and complaining about the handling of the bid.
Cameron subsequently appointed Hunt despite this memo, despite Hunt’s prior public support for the bid in the Times, despite Cameron's own recusal due to his connections, and despite the rationale that led Cameron to remove Cable. Cameron told Parliament he did so because senior civil servants recommended it. The most senior civil servant and counsel had concluded Hunt's public comments had not, under the Ministerial Code, sabotaged Hunt's appointment to the role.
During testimony Cameron admitted he had not disclosed the internal memo to staff. Counsel’s “review” consisted of an hour's telephonic discussion. Not only had Hunt failed to reveal the internal memo to Parliament, but Cameron failed to tell Parliament he had not advised staff of the internal memo (to say nothing of the sometimes delicious texts between Murdoch lobbyist Michel and Hunt).
All together, there were quite a few lapses in disclosure. Hunt didn’t tell Parliament. Cameron didn’t tell reviewing staff. Neither Cameron nor Hunt told Parliament that neither had told staff.
Cameron told Parliament that Leveson would review Hunt’s conduct. Tory MPs regularly repeat this. But Cameron neglected to tell Judge Leveson. Judge Leveson has repeatedly made clear that he will not adjudicate Secretary Hunt’s culpability. Leveson reviews press power and misconduct, not Ministerial. In light of this Tory line, repeated in Parliament, that Leveson exonerated Hunt may itself be a continuing misrepresentation to Parliament.
But all this became lost in press laughter over the fascinating details of the Prime Minister’s relationship with Brooks. One text in particular fired imaginations. On the eve of a major speech by Cameron following the Sun’s endorsement, Brooks texted Cameron her support as a personal friend. Cameron was, she wrote, on the eve of what might be the most important speech of his career. She added that professionally “we’re all in this together.” She ended with the Sun’s banner from its endorsement- “Yes he Cam.”
The delicious details of their relationship is fodder for, well, lots of laughs. But the laughter obscures what's important. What's important is, Cameron confirmed he and Hunt failed to disclose material facts when it was their duty to do so.
I suppose one could argue no one was fooled. Ergo they didn't mislead. But the argument is hardly inspiring.
Cameron's testimony was not the most interesting exchange of the week
The most interesting exchange took place between two observers, commenting on Twitter, concerning the testimony of former Prime Minister John Major. Major testified that former "New" Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair was more right wing than Major. Milliband biographer James MacIntyre tweeted this to his followers. Tory MP Louise Mensch re-Tweeted MacIntyre’s tweet, adding the comment “exactly why I joined New Lab in 1996.”
Louise Mensch is a member of the key Parliamentary committee which investigated "hackgate." She's made a name for herself commenting on Leveson. She often - if sometimes prematurely or inexplicably - comments that testimony of "fill-in-the-blank" exonerates "fill-in-the-blank."
But the exchange is telling.
No wonder the electorate is unsure who to trust or what to do
The one time standard bearer for the historically right wing Conservative Party says his opponent from the historically left wing Labour Party was more right wing than he. Blair defeated Major. The electorate wanted to dump "the Nasty Party." It was not public support for left wing policy so much as revulsion to perceived sleaze, Eurocentricism, and dithering. But, labels mean something to an electorate. The tin bore the label, "Center Left."
I suspect it came as no shock to today's voter to hear Major's view of Blair. It's a fair assessment. Blair did not reverse, but rather accelerated, "neo liberal" reforms of the British economy and government. He took Britain into a neo conservative war. He allegedly dissembled to do it.
That's indisputable. Cameron delights in crediting New Labour for many of the reforms Cameron now pursues. Should the point be missed, Blair helpfully steps in to support the Prime Minister.
I think Blair's "Legacy" remains among the opposition’s great handicaps.
In an early psychological experiment scientists gave lab rats a "change up." The set up was a choice between two buttons. Push one, get a treat, push the other, an electric shock. At first, the same button always delivered the treat, the same the shock. The rats learned. They avoided the shock. They ate the treat. Next the scientists reversed the buttons. In time the rats adjusted. But finally the scientists made it random. The rats stopped eating.
I think Blair’s premiership may have represented such a "change up" for voters.
Cameron did something similar. His “Compassionate Conservative” framing gave way to harsh Tory policies. His NHS "safe in Tory hands" gave way to NHS reform. Now voters know what they don’t like, but voters are unsure whether they can trust anyone to deliver them from what they don't like (much less deliver what they would like). They're not even sure what they should like.
I suspect Americans can relate.
Cameron once described Blair as Britain’s Bill Clinton. Both Blair and Clinton reflected the West's transition from economic and political pluralism to economic and political neo-liberalism.
As a father, I would not be especially pleased to see either gentleman show up to date my daughter. Charming, but slick - what you thought you "saw" did not precisely turn out to be what you got.
Cameron strikes me as cut from the same cloth. Charming. Neo Liberal rather than Conservative. Not encumbered by an ethic of high fidelity to pledges. Reflective of "modern" political leadership, GOP and Democrat, Tory, Liberal Democrat and Labour.
Different people "package" this same experience differently, blaming different "bad guys" or causes. But there is a common denominator - disillusionment - not only with the elite who "know better," but with the process the elite claims to represent.
Very soon the chickens will come home to roost. Neo Liberalism is, quite literally, bankrupt in Europe.
Neo liberalism has a lot for which it must answer: the 2008 bust, its extremity fueled by an extreme boom pushed by unfettered and unregulated greed; the global transfer of wealth and power from West to East; "democracy" adulterated to mean an equal opportunity to be wealthy; and last, but by no means least, the diminution of democratic governance, accountable to the public, from the ideal of social contract carried out by honourable, representative "public servants," to the empty "transparent" etiquette of political elites "with class.”
Sadly, in these respects, we are "all in this together."