Magazine article The Spectator

Hacked Off

Magazine article The Spectator

Hacked Off

Article excerpt

News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman Allen Lane, £20, pp. 360, ISBN 9781846146039

Rupert Murdoch is the kept woman of British politics. He inspires love, fear, paranoia and obsessive secrecy. Tony Blair suppressed the fact that he was godfather to Murdoch's daughter, Grace. Gordon Brown wooed Murdoch but later declared war on him. Cameron smuggled him into Downing Street through the back door.

Now, as his vast empire teeters, a breathless bulletin arrives from the desks of an Independent journalist, Martin Hickman, and a campaigning MP, Tom Watson. Their book covers the countless strands of the hacking story with admirable gusto and thoroughness.

The tone is combative but fair-minded throughout, though when Watson himself pops up it becomes melodramatic and silly. His attacks on the Murdoch press had earned him the 'pathological dislike' of News International's chief executive, Rebekah Brooks. 'Call this man off, ' she once begged Tony Blair. 'He's mad.' At times Watson says he feared he might be assassinated.

Brooks emerges as a character of rare ambition and charisma. She arrived at News International, aged 21, as a secretary. And after just 11 years of 'scheming and networking, ' she'd become an editor. The red-haired stunnah clearly thrived in the male-dominated tabloid world. Her social manner was 'very tactile, ' a colleague recalls. 'You would think she wanted to sleep with you, but she was way too up scale for that.'

She authorised a cruel attack on Watson after he took part in the 'curry-house putsch' of 2006, which forced Blair from office. A Sun columnist described the MP as the spectator | 12 may 2012 | www. spectator. co. uk Seven million readers, we're told, lapped up that fruity insult. Watson's eagerness to repeat the slur, and to emphasise the scale of the readership, suggest that he's developing a slightly pervy crush on his notoriety.

The book's centrepiece is the appearance, last July, of Rupert and James Murdoch be fore the Commons Cu l ture Committee. This chapter, grandly entitled 'Democracy Day', begins with Watson preparing to feed his foes to the lions:

At midday Watson shut the door of his office in Portcullis House, put on the Doors album, LA Woman, at full blast and paced around rehearsing questions.

James Murdoch, 'impetuous, aggressive and arrogant', began the session by apologising to the hacking victims, but he was halted by his 80-year-old father. …

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