Starting with the Royal Family, then Gordon Brown and a few ‘celebrities’, the News of the World telephone-hacking scandal has spread, we are told, to hundreds — to the extent that no self-respecting celebrity wants to be thought of as not having been bugged by the ‘gentlemen of the Screws’.
Across the metropolis luvvies of every type are calling their agents demanding to have their names added to Scotland Yard’s list of victims ; long serving members of Parliament and cabinet ministers are secretly jealous of Chris Bryant, M.P. “Why,” they’re thinking, “is no-one interested in my voice-mail messages ? Are they implying I’m not worth bugging ?”
Meanwhile, like a bunch of crazed lottery winners, the ‘buggees’ are gathering around the News International cash register : “Your name is Rupert Murdoch,” cries one, “and I claim my £20,000 !” “Get out of here !” says another. “I want £100,000 : £50,000 for the stress and the breach of privacy ...” And so on.
This business was exposed in 2006 : five years ago senior Labour politicians first became aware that their voice-mail might have been broken in to. A cynic might imagine there to be a connexion between the decision of The Sun and The News of the World to switch allegiance in the run-up to the last election and this sudden outburst of Labour indignation. Curiously, as long as they thought they had a chance of keeping these organs of the fourth estate in their camp, Labour M.P.s were able to contain their outrage.
Now out of office and desperate for work as ‘political consultants’, they seem to have discovered their principles. It is absurd that the likes of Lord Prescott and Keith Vaz are complaining to the rafters, having known of this for years but decided to suck up to Rupert Murdoch and his newspapers. As to the rest of Fleet Street : the cynic might make a connexion between their piling in on News International and their wanting to frustrate that company’s takeover of BSkyB.
None of this is to condone the hacking. As Boris rode the Central Line on Sunday, it occurred to him to see whether his thinking on this subject aligned with that of others. Next to him sat a 23-year-old teacher named Stephanie. Indicating the lurid front-page account of the scandal in the Observer lying on his lap, he asked Stephanie what she thought of it all.
“It’s terrible,” she replied.
“All right ; but as terrible as what the M.P.s did with their expenses ?”
“I think they’re both bad. It’s hacking in to their personal life. They’re only human,” she concluded — with which Boris agrees.
Certainly The News of the World has much to answer for and will be made to do so but this business won’t be over till we can be sure they were alone in it — or we discover the other culprits.
Boris writes for The Daily Telegraph on Mondays.