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Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Will The Phone-Hacking Scandal Bring Down David Cameron?

As the phone-hacking scandal continues to swirl in Great Britain, questions are being raised about Prime Minister David Cameron and his ties with senior executives of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, including Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of News of the World (NOTW); and Andy Coulson, a former NOTW employee who was later hired by Cameron as his media aide.

Both Brooks and Coulson have been arrested under allegations that they were involved with illegal phone hacking and/or bribing police officers.
As new revelations surface daily, could this disgraceful episode reach all the way to No. 10 Downing Street?
International Business Times spoke with Dr Victoria Honeyman, a lecturer in politics at the University of Leeds in England about how this snowballing scandal might impact Cameron and his term in office.

IBTIMES: Is the "News of the World"/Murdoch phone hacking scandal the biggest political imbroglio in the UK since the Profumo affair* of 1963? Has there been anything this big since then?

HONEYMAN: I think the question is a bit misleading. The Profumo scandal involved sex, the Cold War, espionage, prostitution, suicide and extortion.
The 1986 Westland Helicopter** affair involved cold hard cash, and the MPs expenses scandal*** was another money-related scandal.
However, the NOTW saga involves criminal activity and the media.
All these scandals are very different and I don't think that they can easily be compared to each other. There is, however, no doubt that the current scandal has certainly ruffled plenty of feathers

IBTIMES: The Profumo scandal ultimately led to the resignation of Conservative Prime Minister Harold MacMillan. Could this hacking-scandal bring down Cameron, or do you think he will survive it?

HONEYMAN: I doubt it will bring down Cameron, although it rather depends on whether or not more revelations come out.
Currently there are new revelations virtually every day so anything could happen.
To date, all David Cameron has done is appoint an individual [Andy Coulson] to work for him who had resigned from his job under a cloud, but who had also been cleared by several investigations, including one by the Metropolitan Police Service.

While [Cameron] perhaps should have erred on the side of caution and not appointed somebody connected with the story (regardless of guilt or innocence), this isn't the crime of the century.
Incidentally, I should point out that the Profumo affair directly led to the resignation of John Profumo, but was only a contributory factor in the resignation of Harold Macmillan. It was not the only factor.

IBTIMES: What is at the heart of Cameron's problems with this phone-hacking affair? Is it that he has frequently met with Murdoch and is close friends with Rebekah Brooks? Or is it that he hired Andy Coulson as his media aide? Where is the potential conflict of interest?

HONEYMAN: The key problem that Cameron has is the hiring of Coulson. Being closely linked to Rebekah Brooks and the Murdochs certainly doesn't make Cameron unique. In that regard, he is one of many amongst the British political elite [who is close to Murdoch & co.] The suspicion is that Coulson was guilty of a crime and therefore should never have been hired.
Another problem which has raised its head (although I doubt it would have been such an issue without the Coulson connection and the phone hacking scandal) is whether or not Cameron discussed the British Sky Broadcasting takeover bid with Murdoch or Brooks -- although he claims he did not have any inappropriate discussions with Brooks.

IBTIMES: Under what circumstances would Cameron be forced to call a snap election?

HONEYMAN: If the Liberal Democrats left the coalition and the Conservatives were unable to pass key legislation in the House of Commons, this would lead to a vote of “no confidence” and an election would need to be called. Cameron could call an election under his own steam if he felt that his position would be improved by this, or conversely, if his position was untenable.

IBTIMES: Are any Labour or Liberal Democrat politicians calling for Cameron to resign?

HONEYMAN: The Liberal Democrats are not calling for Cameron's resignation, and the Labour Party, while trying to make the most out of this, have been reticent about calling for Cameron's resignation – instead, they are “hinting” that he should resign.

IBTIMES: Aside from the phone-hacking scandal, how popular is Cameron? Is his Conservative base happy with him (obviously, Labour is not)?

HONEYMAN: Cameron is fairly popular within his own party and the Conservative electorate. This scandal is something of a storm in a Westminster teacup, engulfing the NOTW and the Murdochs, but Cameron is really on the periphery, regardless of how his political opponents try to emphasize and magnify his actions.
The public are really focused on the impact of economic actions upon their daily lives -- jobs, taxes etc. as this has far more bearing on their everyday lives.

IBTIMES: In the event a new election is called, who would be the Labour candidate? Would it be current party leader Ed Miliband? And would Labour be strongly favored to win such an election?

HONEYMAN: Labour would be unlikely to dump Ed Miliband as he has only been leader for just over a year. No party likes to have a revolving door of leaders; it makes them look unsettled and desperate.
Were an election to be held now, I don't think Labour would win outright. It seems unlikely that there would be a clear winner, although there would almost certainly be a clear loser -- the Liberal Democrats.

*John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War under Conservative Prime Minister Harold MacMillan was found to have had an affair with a prostitute named Christine Keeler, who was also allegedly the reputed mistress of a reputed Russian spy based in the Soviet Embassy in London. After lying about the affair to the House of Commons, Profumo was forced to resign in disgrace. A few months later in ill health, Macmillan also stepped down.

**The Westland affair involved Britain’s last helicopter manufacturer, which was struggling. Defense Secretary Michael Heseltine wanted to merge the company with a consortium of European firms; while Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the Trade and Industry Secretary Leon Brittan wanted Westland to merge with Sikorsky, an American company.
The complex affair eventually led to Heseltine's resignation.

***In 2009, outrage erupted among the British public when it was revealed that several MPs had made fraudulent expense claims over a period of years. The episode lead to waves of firings, resignations and criminal prosecutions that led to imprisonment.

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