05 October 2011 12:12 PM

Hugh Grant vs the minister

News reaches me of a very public spat at Hugh Grant's latest conference fringe event.

The Love Actually star clashed with Culture Minister Ed Vaizey last night over the Government's response to the phone hacking scandal.

I'm told Grant accused Vaizey of being "spinny", twisting things and underplaying the problem. Vaizey wasn't having any of it, and through the accusations back.

One onlooker at the Hacked Off event described it as a "right ding dong".

It seems a reporter from the Manchester Evening News was also a witness. Their article quotes Grant saying "I'd be encouraging your party to get up and fight this battle", with Vaizey shooting back: "No-one is trying to gloss over 'hackgate'."

Organisers were worried about the response they would get at the Tory conference, having been cheered at both the Lib-Dems and Labour gatherings.

In the end the meeting with packed - mostly with Tory women, apparently all after a glance at the film star. At one point stewards had to ask the audience to stop taking photos, as the flashbulbs were getting too bright.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

05 September 2011 12:21 PM

MPs wind up for Super Tuesday

The House of Commons is back, and it seems MPs are determined to make sure everyone knows it.

In the old days the summer recess yawned on and on, right up to party conference season, but MPs now get dragged to Westminster for two weeks in September in an attempt to avoid criticism about the length of their break.

Rather than coast through the fortnight, there is a packed Parliamentary agenda with the calendar for tomorrow looking particularly busy.

Select committees take centre stage in the morning, with Culture Media and Sport vying with Home Affairs for attention. DCMS have a much-anticipated hearing on phone hacking, with key News International figures including former legal manager Tom Crone set to answer questions following the explosive Clive Goodman letter. Meanwhile Keith Vaz's home affairs group will hear from Boris Johnson and others on the riots which left parts of London smouldering last month. Other committees have hearings on high speed rail and public appointments.

Attention will then switch to the Government's controversial re-formed NHS shake-up, which is back before the House of Commons. Lib-Dem MP Andrew George is vowing to vote against the Health and Social Care Bill despite a raft of changes during the "listening exercise".

As that gets under way, David Cameron will appear before the liaison committee - the collected board of select committee chairmen - for what promises to be a wide-ranging session.

Super Tuesday, you might say.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

28 July 2011 12:04 PM

PM will give evidence under oath

It was not clear from Lord Justice Leveson's statement, but ESP can reveal that David Cameron and every other witness will give evidence under oath.

Sources close to the inquiry stress that the PM is not being singled out but that all witnesses are being treated the same.

Downing Street says Mr Cameron has nothing to hide and will give evidence in whatever form the judge asks.

It is possible that ministers from the Labour government, and perhaps Gordon Brown, will also be called to give evidence. They too would be under oath.



Joe Murphy




21 July 2011 1:30 PM

Nice little earner

Among David Cameron's mea culpa on Andy Coulson and repeated questions about what was or wasn't said to the Murdochs or Rebekah Brooks about BSkyB, the PM unveiled the panel of the Leveson Inquiry yesterday.

It seems the experts (Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti; former Daily Telegraph and Press Association journalist George Jones; Elinor Goodman, ex-political editor for Channel 4 News; former Financial Times chairman Sir David Bell; former Ofcom chairman Lord David Currie; and Sir Paul Scott-Lee, former chief constable of West Midlands Police) may well be on to a good thing.

ESP can reveal they will be able to claim £565 a day for their work, plus "reasonable travel costs". Apparently this is the same amount as those on the detainees inquiry.

So even if they only do one day a week, that's £29,380 for the year. A five-day week puts it closer to £150,000 a year.

A spokesman for the inquiry vows it will be "transparent" about how much is paid, and that just because the sums are available doesn't mean panel members will claim them.

The Government will also reimburse the Royal Courts of justice for Lord Justice Leveson’s salary.

These probes have a habit of rumbling on at great expense. And let's not forget, Cameron pledged an end to costly-open ended inquiries.

But it's nice work if you can get it.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

19 July 2011 4:08 PM

The psychic link between No 10 and the Yard

Downing Street has just released a fascinating email exchange between John Yates (formerly) of the Yard and Ed Llewellyn, David Cameron's chief of staff.

It comes after former assistant commissioner Mr Yates told the Commons home affairs committee he had offered to brief the Prime Minister on the scope of the phone hacking investigation in September 2010, but was turned down.

What caught my eye is that phone hacking is not mentioned at all in the emails - it relies on an unspoken understanding about "other matters".

It is worth noting that Number 10 say Ed Llewellyn's response was "discussed and agreed" by Jeremy Heywood, the Permanent Secretary (top civil servant) at Downing Street.

Here is the full (but brief) exchange:

10 September 2010: John Yates to Ed Llewellyn
Hope all well.
I am coming over to see the PM at 12.30 today regarding [redacted: national security] matters. I am very happy to have a conversation in the margins around the other matters that have caught my attention this week if you thought it would be useful.
Best wishes,

Response: 10 September 2010: Ed Llewellyn to John Yates
John -
Thanks - all well.
On the other matters that have caught your attention this week, assuming we are thinking of the same thing, I am sure you will understand that we will want to be able to be entirely clear, for your sake and ours, that we have not been in contact with you about this subject.
So I don't think it would really be appropriate for the PM, or anyone else at No 10, to discuss this issue with you, and would be grateful if it were not raised please.
But the PM looks forward to seeing you, with Peter Ricketts and Jonathan Evans, purely on [redacted: national security] matters at 1230.
With best wishes,

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

15 July 2011 2:00 PM

Edward vs Goliath

Peers are discussing the phone hackng scandal today, and there are some great lines coming out of the Upper House.

"Blue Labour" cheerleader Lord Glasman has been out hailing his boss's bravery in taking on News International, with some great biblical rhetoric.

"It was with great courage the leader of the Labour Party stood like King David stood before the bully and with the single stone he laid him down. He began this change," said the peer.

"The Sun was beginning to denigrate Ed Miliband to start running six-minute loops of his repeated mistakes and putting panda eyes - beginning to systematically attack him.

"But the leader of the Labour Party stood up. It reminded me of the biblical story of King David because King David was sitting in his farm, looking after his sheep, his brothers were generals and lieutenants in King Saul's army and Goliath was standing, the great bully going to attack them."

Would the comparisons have been the same if David Miliband had been leading Labour right now?

Also worth a mention is this, from Lord Howarth of Newport.

"There is, I think, a resentment among politicians that many journalists are better than they are at their job - they're cleverer, they're quicker," he said.

"There is a jealousy that journalists rather than politicians - in the public perception and often in reality - lead the national debate, and the campaigning journalists are often more effective than campaigning politicians.

"And there is a fear on the part of politicians that the media have displaced Parliament.

"Where is the true debating chamber of the nation? Is it the House of Commons or is it the studio of the Today programme or the editorial column of the Sun or Daily Mail?"

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse    

14 July 2011 4:08 PM

Lib-Dem spin doctor dilemma

Among the many strands of the incredibly fast-moving phone hacking scandal has been a focus on journalists-turned-spinners.

Andy Coulson's News of the World past has been used by Labour to question David Cameron's judgment; the Tories have hit back by throwing muck at Tom Baldwin (see yesterday's PMQs as an example).

The squeaky-clean Lib-Dems have so far had no questions to answer, but are well aware of the perils. They will need maternity cover for Nick Clegg's press chief Lena Pietsch in the coming months, and any hopefuls can expect a VERY deep background check.

I understand the party may even rule out former journalists altogether as part of a safety-first strategy.

"We certainly don't want any of this coming our way," said my cautious source.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

11 July 2011 2:21 PM

Lunchtime List

All today's Evening Standard political stories in one place

Hacking exclusice: Queen's police sold her details to NoW
Personal details about the Queen and her closest aides were sold to the News of the World by corrupt royal protection officers, the Standard reveals today.
Drop BSkyB bid, Clegg tells Murdoch as shares plunge
Yard chief: I only heard Milly's phone had been hacked from the media
Miliband: PM must face Commons over Coulson

'Anxiety for thousands' as care homes group closes
Tens of thousands of care home residents face an uncertain long-term future after stricken operator Southern Cross today announced that it would shut.

Unions to fight 'charter for privatisation'
David Cameron was today warned he faces the "fight of his life" over plans to give charities, community groups and companies a greater say in running public services.

David Cameron v Ed Miliband
Ground: Hacking
Kickoff: 11am
Miliband had another good day on phone hacking - his seventh day on the front foot. Behind the scenes, he urged the Speaker to have Cameron dragged to the Commons to explain why warnings went unheeded about the Coulson affair. Downing Street neatly saved the goal by volunteering a statement from Jeremy Hunt instead. Thwarted, Red Ed decided to reply to Hunt in person (unusual for a party leader) to spotlight his view that Cam was “running scared” and said Cameron’s reputation would be “permanently tarnished” until he told all.
Score: Cameron 0, Miliband 1

Clegg reaches for the Sky

Nick Clegg took unilateral action with his call for Rupert Murdoch to abandon his bid for BSkyB, I understand.

The Deputy Prime Minister's plea for Murdoch to "do the decent thing" and reconsider the merger was apparently not discussed with David Cameron in advance.

"Nick was asked a question and he answered it," an aide told me.

"He was giving his own view on what the top man at News International should do."

The aide also scotched suggestions that this was part of a Government-orchestrated attempt to get Murdoch to drop the bid by using the Coalition as a convenient vehicle.

It would certainly be terribly convenient if NewsCorp dropped its bid for Sky - saving Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt any tough (and legally very complicated) decisions.

But the aide stressed the Lib-Dems' long history of independence from News International, adding: "We have got to be absolutely able - as we do - to say our own thing on this."

Muscular liberalism indeed.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse