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EXCLUSIVE: Michael Crick to Leave Newsnight

19 Jul 2011 at 21:38

Word reaches me (not via hacked voicemails) that Newsnight political editor Michael Crick is on his way to Channel 4 News. Since Cathy Newman became a news anchor, there has been a vacancy in the political department there, although it is hard to see why a Newsnight political editor would take a cut in status. I am assuming Gary Gibbon isn’t going anywhere… [UPDATE: He isn’t]

This is the second high profile political loss for the BBC. Laura Kuenssberg is off to ITN to take over as Business Editor. And Matt Frei also joins Channel 4 News from the BBC in the Autumn.

For Michael Crick, this is a return to his spiritual home, as he worked for Channel Four News in the 1980s. Michael has just told me: “After 19 very happy years on Newsnight, it was clearly time to move on. I’m looking forward to wonderful new challenges and returning to my roots at ITN, and at Channel 4 News, of which I was a founder member.”

UPDATE 11.29: Here’s the Channel 4 News Press Release.

Channel 4 News has announced that Newsnight’s Political Editor Michael Crick will join the programme. He will become Political Correspondent, taking the role vacated by Cathy Newman – who is set to become a regular presenter alongside Jon Snow and Krishnan Guru Murthy. The move represents something of a homecoming for Crick, who was a founding member of the Channel 4 News team when the programme launched in 1982. Then, he was Washington Correspondent. He joined the BBC in 1990, working first on Panorama, and then joining Newsnight in 1992. Crick has won two RTS awards – one for his coverage of the 1988 US election, and one for a special Panorama programme on the life of Jeffrey Archer. He has written several books – including biographies of Alex Ferguson, Jeffrey Archer and Michael Howard. Richard Nixon famously said that whilst visiting the Oxford Union in 1978, his toughest question came from Crick, then a student. Crick will work alongside Channel 4 News’ award-winning Political Editor Gary Gibbon. This year, Gibbon was named the RTS’ Specialist journalist of the Year. Of the appointment, Editor Jim Gray said: “It’s thrilling to have an established, experienced name like Michael join our team. He has a remarkable track record of finding things out that people don’t want unearthed. He is a formidable investigative journalist. With him in this role, and Gary continuing to lead our coverage as Political Editor, we have the perfect political team in place.” Dorothy Byrne, Head of News and Current Affairs at Channel 4 says: “Michael has a talent for asking the awkward question, for spotting duplicity or ambiguity and cutting through it – and we can’t wait for him to bring this to Channel 4 News.” Of the move, Michael Crick says: “Channel 4 News has a reputation for an indepth, analytical and cheeky approach to politics, and I look forward to delivering exactly that. Whilst I am sad to leave Newsnight after 19 happy years, I have always admired Gary Gibbon’s journalism and it’s fantastic to be returning to my ITN roots to join him and the rest of the Channel 4 News team.” Notes to Editors: • The announcement is the latest in a series of high profile appointments by Channel 4 News. • The BBC’s Washington Correspondent Matt Frei is set to join in September – still covering the Washington brief, but also taking on some presenting duties. • Newsnight’s Correspondent Jackie Long has joined as Social Affairs Editor. • And Morland Sanders, currently a correspondent for ITV’s Tonight and Radio 4 is set to join as North of England Correspondent. • The programme has also announced it is looking for its first ever weather presenter

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How Very Dare I Talk About Cameron's Future!

18 Jul 2011 at 21:40

Oh dear. Apparently I should join the Liberal Democrats. That was one of the responses to my piece last night on David Cameron’s future, or possible lack of it. Alternatively, others decided I was in the vanguard of a David Davis led leadership coup and speaking for the hard right of the Conservative Party. And there was much more besides – some of it tongue in cheek, some vicious. Wel, if you put your head over the parapet, expect for it to be shot at or even knocked off from time to time.

But people can’t have it both ways. I can’t be accused one day of being a Cameron loyalist and then the next day of total disloyalty by raising the vague possibility of this scandal lapping at the shores of Number Ten. People should make up their minds. To be admonished by ConservativeHome for an act of disloyalty was a particularly ironic treat. Certain mirrors should be looked into, I feel.

I’m no longer active in Conservative politics. I’ve no agenda. I’m not seeking to be a Tory candidate again. I don’t seek preferment or patronage from anyone in the Conservative Party. When I was seeking to be an MP I always understood why some people could never accept that I was giving my honest held opinions – even though 99% of the time I was. On rare occasions there were times when I had to slightly caveat some opinions, but that’s politics. I no longer have to do that at any time. And I won’t.

So if I write: “It is no longer an impossibility to imagine this scandal bringing down the Prime Minister or even the government” just accept that this is my honest view. It’s not me trying to sow seeds of dissent. It is not me flying a kite for David Davis (who I haven’t even spoken to about recent events). It is purely my opinion. And as a blogger and commentator, I should feel free to give it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

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Sir Paul Stephenson: A Bizarre Resignation

17 Jul 2011 at 21:42

Well that was one of the more bizarre resignations I have ever seen. Sir Paul Stephenson basically said that he had done nothing wrong, his integrity was intact and well, that’s about it. So why on earth would he resign? Just because of some rather weak allegations about his use of Champneys? Come off it. He can’t stand the heat so he’s getting out of the kitchen.

The thing is, Sir Paul Stephenson has a good record on crime fighting. Crime figures are down in London and that has happened under his leadership. Sure, the last few weeks have been intensely uncomfortable for everyone at the Metropolitan Police. It is a force under fire, but it is a force which needs clear leadership. Sir Paul has now left the Met rudderless. A new Commissioner will take some time to appoint, and it is unfortunate to say the least that the Met won’t have anyone who can properly put its case over the next few weeks. That is bound to affect morale in the force.

One consequence of his resignation will be to put John Yates under the microscope once again. Is his position any longer tenable? I think in all walks of life the media demands resignations all too easily nowadays, and I don’t want to see anyone’s career ended. I actually think Yates is a fine officer, who took his eye off the ball over phone hacking. But I predict the wolves will very shortly be at his door once again.

So, who should replace Sir Paul? Sir Hugh Orde and Bernard Hogan-Howe will be two leading contenders. It seems to me that the Home Secretary and Mayor may well think it a good idea to bring in someone from outside the Met and with no connection it, and give them a simple order – to clean house.

All this makes you wonder, who’s next?

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Could Cameron Be Next?

17 Jul 2011 at 21:41

About ten days ago a caller on my LBC radio show reckoned that the hacking scandal was turning into a British Watergate. I dismissed this thought as the ravings of a lunatic. I’m not so sure I was right to do that now.

I can’t believe I am even writing this, but it is no longer an impossibility to imagine this scandal bringing down the Prime Minister or even the government. OK, some of you reading this may think that last sentence is a deranged ranting, and you may be right. Indeed, I hope you are. But Sir Paul Stephenson launched a thinly veiled attack on David Cameron in his resignation statement and the Prime Minister is already on the ropes about the propriety of his relationship with Andy Coulson.

The irony, of course, is that virtually everything we are talking about in this scandal happened under the last government, and yet it is this one which is getting it in the neck largely because of David Cameron’s decision to appoint Andy Coulson. Oh how he must now wish he had appointed Guto Harri, as was his original intention.

It is difficult to predict what Cameron’s next move might be. Having regained the initiative last Wednesday, he is now back in a very bad place. Does he have the wherewithall to recover from this? Well, I’ve said before that he is the political of a weeble. He may wobble, but he doesn’t fall down. He has always bounced back in the past and I expect him to do so again.

But for the first time since 2005, some people are thinking about life after Cameron. And that’s not good. Not good at all.

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Gio Comes Home

16 Jul 2011 at 21:45

Just over a fortnight ago, the last blogpost I wrote on my old blog was devoted to a tribute to my Jack Russell, Gio. He had died, less than twenty four hours earlier. I make no apology for returning to the subject today. I have been incredibly touched by the letters and emails I have received from readers from all over the world. Indeed, never has a blogpost provoked such an emotional reaction. I guess everyone who has ever owned a pet could relate to the terrible experience John and I were going through.

It is a cliché, I know, but time is a healer, and it dims the pain. But it will take some time for the grieving process to finish. The house seems to so empty. No pit patter of tiny paw on the floorboards, warning of an imminent arrival. No barking when dinner is ready. No fur to hoover up from the red carpet every day. No dog bowl by the kitchen sink. No smell of dog in my office. There are so many reminders of the little beast who filled our lives with such joy.

I wanted to bury Gio on my parents’ farm in Essex – the place I still call home. It’s a property that’s never likely to leave my family and Gio used to love going there and playing with his Jack Russell ‘cousin’ Spike. But John insisted that we should have him cremated and keep his ashes in a box. I’ve never liked the idea of cremation and have always thought there was something vaguely barbaric about it. I’ve got it written in my own will that I am to be buried, not cremated. Indeed, I do everything I can to avoid going to any funeral that takes place in a crematorium. The sight of the coffin disappearing is one of the most horrific things a human being can experience. Anyway, in the end I agreed to it, and on Thursday Gio came home. Or at least his ashes did. In some ways, there’s something vaguely comforting about the fact that he is back in his own domain and that if I want to I can go and sit by his little box and have a chat with him. The trouble is, every time I do that, I know that the waterworks will start again.

Many kind people said we were wrong to think that getting a new dog would be betraying Gio’s memory. In fact they were very persuasive. No dog can ever replace Gio, but we have now decided that in the autumn we will welcome not one, but two new dogs into our lives. We’ll get another rescue Jack Russell and we’ve already chosen a mini Schnauzer. They will be company for each other. But they have a lot to live up to!

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Art: I Know What I Like...

16 Jul 2011 at 21:44

I know as much about art as the average philistine. But I know what I like.

Two Mondays ago, the Eastern Daily Press carried a wonderful picture of a painting by a landscape artist called Cornelia Fitzroy called The Red House. If you still have that edition, have a look. It was on the letters page. I looked her up on the internet and instantly fell in love with her work. As luck would have it that painting was part of an exhibition at the excellent 18/21 gallery in Tombland in Norwich. To cut a long story short, I have bought it without actually seeing it in the flesh, so to speak. And I suspect it won’t be the last of Cornelia’s work which will adorn my wall.

As a consequence of this purchase, I have also discovered the most wonderful book called How Artists See East Anglian Places, published by Green Pebble Publications. It is a beautifully produced book showcasing the work of several dozen Norfolk and Suffolk landscape artists. And it demonstrates how lucky I am to spend so much time in England’s most beautiful region. Ideal present material!

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Rebekah Brooks' Resignation Is a Week Too Late

15 Jul 2011 at 21:46

Strange timing, but Rebekah Brooks has finally bowed to the inevitable and fallen on her sword. Her position had been untenable since the decision to close News of the World and I was astonished she and the Murdochs couldn’t see that. Even now, judging by the tone of her resignation statement, I wonder if she “gets it”, as Ed Miliband might say.

Her evidence next Tuesday to the Culture, Media & Sport select committee will be very interesting to listen to, but I wonder now whether she will appear alongside the two Murdochs.

So a boil has been lanced. Or at least that’s how it appears in the minutes after her resignation. But it would have been so much better for her and her company had she gone a week ago. Any elementary student of crisis management techniques could have seen that. Why couldn’t the main protagonists?

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I Admit It: I was Wrong

11 Jul 2011 at 21:50

OK, I’m going to hold up my hands and do a bit of a mea culpa here. Last December I wrote an article in the Mail on Sunday, ostensibly on Julian Assange, but I also used it to have a go at The Guardian for their pursual of Andy Coulson over his alleged involvement in phone hacking. This followed a very angry blogpost I had written in September which was headlined COULSON’S ACCUSERS CAN GO TO HELL. Here’s what I wrote…

Andy Coulson is bloody good at his job. That’s why the likes of The Guardian, Alastair Campbell, Prescott and Johnson are doing their best to jump on the back of the New York Times story about an ex News of the World journalist who was sacked by the paper for persistent drug and alcohol problems. You don’t think he might have a grudge, do you? They all want Coulson’s scalp. Well, sod ‘em. The Police investigated this and found that Coulson had nothing to answer for. So did the DCMS Select Committee. Clearly that’s not good enough for Campbell and Prescott – those very models of good media practice and personal conduct. Coulson took responsibility for the episode at the time and resigned. What do they want him to do – resign a second time from a job which has nothing to do his previous incarnation? Whatever people thought of Andy Coulson’s appointment back in 2007, over the last four years he has proved himself in the job. He’s bloody good at it. His accusers are political opportunists who were part of a government which did far worse things than anything Coulson is accused of. As far as I am concerned they can go to hell. Coulson is innocent until proven guilty.

Now I certainly don’t recant all of that. It is true that Coulson did a good job for Cameron and so far as I am aware behaved appropriately. He certainly did in my limited dealings with him. I believed Coulson when he said he knew nothing about the phone hacking. A police inquiry had cleared him, so why wouldn’t I believe him? Indeed, I would still like to believe now that he is totally innocent of the charges against him. But he now faces further charges of having authorised payments to the police in return for information received. I would like to hope he won’t have a case to answer, but none of us can know what the police inquiries will result in. It seems that he is destined to become the pin up boy of this scandal, but let’s not forget that he did actually resign his job (twice, as it turned out) which is more than the dreadful Rebekah Wade has managed to do.

Where I went wrong, and I apologise for this, is to impugn the worst motives not just of The Guardian but also the various political figures who have pursued this issue with such tenacity. I still believe that one of their initial motivations was political, and they dearly wanted to get Coulson if they could (I exempt Tom Watson from this motive completely, though). But as they dug and dug, what they found led them to a much bigger scalp – that of the whole News of the World newspaper itself.

I remember doing a 5 Live Stephen Nolan programme in which I tore a caller apart for his anti-Murdoch and anti-Coulson agenda. Well, it’s not the Nolan listener who has egg on his face. It’s me. And I am big enough to admit it.

For those who will relish my discomfort, let me tell them this. Several times in recent weeks I have paid tribute on air to both Tom Watson and Chris Bryant for their part in exposing this whole sorry mess. I have pointed out that it just shows that backbench MPs can actually wield both power and influence and effect change. I have little doubt that without Tom Watson, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I’ve interviewed Tom four or five times, for 10 minutes at a stretch, in order to try to understand where he’s coming from. I am totally satisfied in my own mind that he never approached this purely from a tribal viewpoint. Indeed, he told me on more than one occasion that he believed Andy Coulson to be a distraction from the main point. And that is that phone hacking has been prevalent not just in News International papers, but also others. Ask Tom Watson or Chris Bryant if I have given them a fair crack of the whip and I am confident what their answers will be. I do think Chris has erred too far on the partisanry front, but tribal politicians have to be forgiven for that occasionally.

Nick Davies of The Guardian was the journalist who drove it and wouldn’t let it drop. He was painted (not by me, I hasten to add) as obsessive by some, but the same was probably said of Woodward and Bernstein. I suspect he will be in line for journalist of the year. His exposure of sharp journalistic practice in his book FLAT EARTH made him many enemies, who will have to eat a bit of humble pie now. That book did more to shed the light on journalistic malpractice than anything, and ought to be required reading for the judge who will lead the public inquiry.

We now have a real opportunity to build a cross party consensus on the future of a free press. The Prime Minister, I think, was sincere in his rather uncomfortable press conference, when he offered to bring Ed Miliband into the discussions. And so he should.

So there we are. The dangers of the blogosphere laid bare. I hold my hands up. I was wrong to express myself in the way that I did and there was more to this than I thought there was. I doubt that admission will satisfy my critics because nothing ever does. But I do believe in admitting I was wrong if the circumstances merit it. And these do.

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The Making of Ed Miliband

11 Jul 2011 at 21:49

One thing Ed Miliband has proved over the last week is that he can learn from David Cameron’s experience as opposition leader. Back in 2009 during the MPs’ expenses scandal it was Cameron who grabbed the initiative and led from the front. In a difficult situation, it was he who seemed to be leading the country and the then Prime Minister seemed not to understand or be able to react to the public mood. Ironically, Cameron was quick off the mark largely due to the advice of one Andrew Coulson.

This knd of story is always easier for an opposition leader to handle, it has to be said, but Miliband has stepped up to the mark, sounded eminently reasonable and put the PM on the back foot. Indeed, he, together with the extremely impressive Ivan Lewis (shadow culture secretary) haven’t had to work too hard to turn this into a story about dodgy dealings at the heart of Downing Street, rather than Wapping. Quite an achievement.

Miliband and Lewis looked the part this morning, as they gave a press conference from County Hall with a dream of a backshot for the cameras. It was on a par with Cameron’s press conferences as leader of the opposition at the St Stephen’s Club with a windown and trees as a backdrop.Miliband’s speech was calm and impressive and he’s done a good job in backing Cameron into a corner, always appearing as the voice of sweet reason. There’s some heavy politicking going on here, but it is so subtle that most won’t spot it.

To be fair to the Prime Minister, there’s not much more he could say or do without jeopardising the Culture Secretary’s position. It is quite clear they are hoping beyond hope that Murdoch will voluntarily pull the plug on his BskyB bid. Some think it will be a cold day in hell before that happens. But if it does, the consequences for his other media interests in the UK might be catastrophic. If I was an employee of The Times or Sky News, I’d be wondering just how safe my future was. Both organisations lose a hell of a lot of money. Is it just conceivable that a wounded Rupert Murdoch might seek to offload both, or even close them down? That would be a very unfortunate byproduct of the witchhunt which is currently underway. The truth is that Rupert Murdoch is neither the saint his admirers protray him to be, but neither is he devil incarnate, which some on the left would like us to believe. Ed Miliband has a tightrope to walk here, but so far he is doing it in a very assured manner.

I’ve always said that Ed Miliband is not to be underestimated. The last few days have provided me with the proof.

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I'm Glad 'Blagging' Has Resurfaced

11 Jul 2011 at 21:47

It’s good that Gordon Brown has spoken out and revealed that at least one newspaper, the Sunday Times, had tried to hack his bank account details and the medical records of his son, Fraser. It’s outrageous that anyone, let alone a much respected Sunday newspaper should sanction such dirty deeds. Should we be surprised, though? Hardly. Back on 12 December 2006 I wrote about an FOI request by my old friend Lord Ashcroft.

Those of you who have read Michael Ashcroft’s Dirty Politics, Dirty Times will know the lengths some newspapers go to to obtain information illegally. The News of the World Clive Goodman case is just the tip of a very sleazy iceberg. Lord Ashcroft has now gone a stage further in his endeavours to expose the sleazy operations of some journalists and publications and used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain even more startling information on this. Essentially, Ashcroft has uncovered via the Information Commissioner’s Office that 305 journalists used one specific agency in Hampshire to obtain illegal information from the Police National Computer, the DVLA and telephone companies. These 305 journalists worked for a total of 20 national newspapers (ie most of them) and 11 magazines. A staggering 58 worked for one newspaper, 50 for another, 45 for another and 33 for another. The laws of libel prevent me from speculating which newspapers they were, but you can probably guess just as well as I can. In total, 40 lines of enquiry were commissioned by journalists working for magazines, but half of these journalists worked for just one magazine. Read Lord Ashcroft’s full report HERE (it’s five pages long). Isn’t it strange that the original ICO report titled ‘What Price Privacy?’ received hardly any press coverage? I wonder why that was… Well if the newspapers won’t cover this new revelation I am sure Lord Ashcroft would encourage my fellow bloggers to…

Then, on my old blog, in September 2009 I wrote about blagging.

We knew, for instance that it wasn’t just the News of the World which was at it. Indeed, the Mail Group was the biggest miscreant – 58 journalists used blaggers on 952 occasions. But the Sunday Times, Observer, Telegraph and many others also used the services of the bugging agency. In the new updated edition of his book DIRTY POLITICS, DIRTY TIMES Michael Ashcroft reveals in colourful detail the lengths the Sunday Times went to to blag information from the Inland Revenue on his tax affairs. The chapter is too long to print here, but I’d encourage you to have a look at it, as it outlines in gory detail what a newspaper is prepared to do – outside the law – to gain private information. He makes a powerful case against Sunday Times journalist Nick Rufford. You can read the chapter HERE. Scroll forward to page 130 on the PDF or page 226 of the text. It’s only seven pages, but quite shocking. Perhaps the Select Committee should call Lord Ashcroft to give evidence as someone who has been on the receiving end of a ‘blagger’. Ashcroft employed a team of lawyers to get to the bottom of what happened. He was keen to take legal action against the Sunday Times. Of course, with his resources he could comtemplate such a thing. So could Gordon Taylor of the PFA. So can Max Clifford. So can John Prescott, and most of the other celebrities named. But imagine if this happened to you. Imagine if a ‘blagger’ got hold of your own details. Imagine if they accessed your voicemail and used it in some nefarious way. How would you gain redress? The truth is, of course, that legally it would be very difficult because our legal system in this area is stacked in favour of those with the resources to use it. It was ever thus, I suppose. Clearly, prosecuting authorities can only bring a case when they have enough evidence to do so. The Met and the CPS clearly didn’t feel at the time that they had enough evidence to prosecute anyone other than Clive Goodman. Yet we know that most national newspapers were involved in blagging to one degree or another, and we also know that many of their journalists were involved. The difficulty for the prosecuting authorities is presumably linking individual journalists to individual examples of illegal blagging. But it is in the public interest that the legal system, and parliamentary system is used to hold those responsible to account.

Blagging has to form a wider part of the judicial inquiry currently being set up. If the law needs strengthening so be it. Gordon Brown doesn’’t deserve what happened to him, but neither do ordinary members of the public.

If this causes the WHOLE of the newspaper industry to change its ways, so much the better.

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