16 May 2012

Leveson Inquiry - Module 3 - Day 6 - Jack Straw MP

Wednesday, 16th May 2012

Today's Witness:
Jack Straw - Labour MP for Blackburn

Useful Links:
Leveson Inquiry Witness Statements HERE 
Leveson Inquiry Witness Lists HERE 

Video Recordings of each day's proceedings HERE

Live Feed From Leveson Inquiry Site HERE

BBC Democracy Live Feed HERE 
Guardian Live Blog HERE
Telegraph Live Blog HERE  
Link to yesterday's hearing HERE
Links to latest articles, comment and information relevant to the Leveson Inquiry: 

Guardian Live Blog HERE
Jack Straw MP begins his testimony
"John Whittaker Straw, but I'm commonly known as 'Jack'" –– what an orator

#Leveson: Of all the witnesses who have/will appear at inquiry, I know Mr Straw the best as worked with him when Lord Chancellor.
Straw: Every politician wants to have the best relationship they can with the press but if you get too close becomes compromised. 
Straw: Period as President of NUS taught me a lot about what to do in relation to the press.
Straw: Have to take the rough with the smooth and go on and face the music, even if it was going to be really difficult.
Straw: Blair gov was too close to some people in the press because of our experience in opposition and didn't to change stop it. 

Straw: if you get too close to press your own position becomes compromised & can undermine your integrity
Straw: get close cosy relationships between opposition & journos writing knocking stories about govt; sometimes incestuous
Straw saying because of that Blair govt was sometimes too close to press 

Straw: my media policy is don't have any favourites. Par 15 WS
Straw: There wasn't ever a golden age of journalism and before TV/radio newspapers even more powerful than they are today. 
Straw explaining role of 1924 Zinoviev Letter in Labour party folk history....
Straw: of Times, great man, been there forever
Straw: Onlie ed of Times started life in press gallery of HoC. At that time 12 people there to produce 7000 words a day on Parl.
Straw: Has been replaced by personality conflict-based journalism.

Straw: papers reporting Parliament as public service began to disappear as Parliament became televised
Straw: still print media that sets news values
Straw: Print media still sets the news values for colleagues/broadcasters, Boulton mentions this in written evidence.
Straw: Two of my special advisors (Ed Owen and Mark Davis) came from journalism. They had good reputation for "being straight".

Straw now discussing role of his special advisers (inc ) - were "completely straight" not manipulative
Straw: some in politics obsessively conspiratorial, employed special advisers up to fancy tactics (doesn't name names sadly)

Straw: Spads are a mixed bunch and reflect the personality and quirks of their bosses.

Jack Straw says he knew "everything" his special advisers were up to – and others in his office did too
Straw: known Mail ed in chief Dacre since late 60s, respectful acquaintanceship, not a close friendship 
Straw: "Respectful acquaintanceship" with Paul Dacre - more straightforward because our politics is very different.
Straw: Don't think ever exchanged text message with Dacre, If I want to send him an email it goes to his PA.
Straw: Dacre sceptical about Blair and less so with Brown.
Straw: Have never turned our houses into a sort of salon for politicians…all of our family friends are not politicians/journalists.

Straw: if I was being worked over in the press my view always was not to try and phone an editor and complain, would look pretty weak
Straw: Barbara Castle (for whom he was a SpAd) was Labour equivalent of Margaret Thatcher

Straw WS: the sun played a particular role in the fortunes of the LAbour Party. Ruthlessly hostile coverage

Straw WS (flashed up in court): few of us in 1992 election in doubt that Sun approach lost us seats (last person in Britain turn out lights)

Straw: Mrs Castle Labour equivalent of Thatcher, she had a list in her head of journalists she liked and ones she detested.
Straw: The political leanings of most newspapers in Britain are predictable - exceptions are Guardian and 3/4 NI papers.

Rupert Murdoch has “played a power game with political leaders,” says Straw in his witness statement, as read by Robert Jay QC
Straw: Guardian supports Labour unless we really need them, then it supports Lib Dems - is fairweather friend
Straw: Murdoch has enjoyed fact he's been willing to play with political leaders

Adam Boulton: ‘carelessness’ between press and politicians became ‘excessive’: The “carelessness” between the pr...
Straw: Murdoch reckoned his political influence would be greater if support available in return for what he could get out of it.
Straw: I don't mean a deal, have never seen evidence of a deal [with Murdoch].
Straw: Murdoch is very interested in power for its own sake and to help him consolidate non-newspaper interests.
Straw: Assumed Murdoch reckoned if support of winning party available, would open more doors in government when came to interests.
Straw statement: Used to sit with Rebekah Brooks on the Oxfordshire train to London when Justice Secretary.

Straw: murdoch's print operations may only contribute 2% of total News Corp revenues, but their power is a lot more than 2% 
Straw travelled with Brooks between 07 and 09 when he was justice secretary. Arrangement stopped in 09 when she became chief exec of NI

Jack Straw (then-justice secretary) would "gossip" with Rebekah Brooks during morning commute to London between '07-'09
Jack Straw has kept a copy of the Sun from before 1992 election with a critical story about him, holds it up for Inquiry to see
Straw on Sun story about his 3 homes: everyone knew we would not be in W Oxon house on elex night, we got burgled  

Straw statement: Few of us who took part in 1992 election are in any doubt that the Sun's approach lost us seats.
Straw: Was burgled on election night because everyone knew we wouldn't be home (from press). Raised with Sun but got "glazed eyes".
Straw: On train talked to Rebekah Brooks about politics, what was in the paper, gossip about personalities.

From Guardian Live Blog:
Straw says the Sun was "working over" each member of the Labour front bench in the runup to the 1992 election as a demonstration of its power.
He refers to a Sun article critical of him for owning three houses. His West Oxfordshire house was later burgled on election night, which he says he later raised with the Sun "and got the glazed-eye look".
He says of the Sun: "It did contribute to our defeat. I took that as power. When Mr Blair came into power we all took the view that it was best to get the papers on our side, without compromising ourselves."
'..always easy with the benefit of hindsight' (speaking of press support for the Iraq War)
Straw on Iraq war: was certainly important to have papers onside but was never part of discussions I was involved in 

From Guardian Live Blog:
Straw denies that the discussions to go to war in Iraq in 2003 was influenced by Rupert Murdoch or his newspapers. "It would have been disgusting were it true," he says.
Straw was foreign secretary at the time of the invasion. He is asked about the three telephone calls between Murdoch and Blair in the runup to war.
Straw says he was vaguely aware of them at the time, but emphasises the speed of events in those weeks.
"Frankly who Mr Blair was talking to on the telephone was neither here nor there, unless it was about getting support for the [EU] second resolution."
He adds that it was certainly important to have newspapers onside, but that it was never part of his discussions around the war.

Mr Jay putting questions to Jack Straw on Human Rights Act and Privacy Bill

Straw: Lord Wakeham rasied concerns over HRA - I was concerned to achieve consensus on legislation as major constitutional change.
Straw: PCC trying to secure press being excluded from any adjudication. That was impossible to meet

Straw saying politicians wanted a law of privacy but wanted law lords to provide it
This is the key bit of Human Rights Act under discussion (this may not win thrilling tweet of day)

Straw: Tricky, if you're a politician, to develop a law of privacy. Thought their Lordships on the bench would do a better job,
Straw: Balance in respect to privacy is so tricky, courts would make a better job of it and have done good job in developing it.
[Jack Straw 2011 Gareth Williams lecture is here:

Straw keeps looking towards press gallery while speaking, just like Alastair Campbell did.
Straw: had the person who succeeded Wakeham as chair of PCC been the same calibre we wouldn't have ended up in state we are in
Straw: Lord Wakeham had very influential position, worked on the basis if I "squared" him I'd square most sections of the press.
Straw: View at the time was PCC had been improved and was becoming effective (under Wakeham).
Straw: Government view was let's see where PCC + developing law of privacy might work. Not bad approach to do things gradually.
 Straw evidence moves on to DPA (namely s55) and the ICO reports.

Straw: there's a need now for Parliament to amend law so there's a tort for breach of privacy.
LJ Leveson asking about the Data Protection Acts and sentencing

Straw: Govt agreed that stronger penalties than fines were needed for breaching Data Protection Act
Straw: regret fact we had not spotted this penalty was too low but we hadn't
Straw:: may be in light of what we think may have happened DPA penalty itself shd be higher still than two years
Straw: Dacre, Brooks & Telegraph reps were core of those who came to see him opposing jail terms for breaching Data Protection Act

(Papers were against prison for breach of S55 of Act; offence of "reckless obtaining, disclosing or procuring" personal data)

Straw: I regret that in the DPA, a bill which I put through, we had not spotted this penalty was too low.
Straw: Dacre, Brooks, MacLennan and sometimes Black came to meet me opposing jail terms for DPA breaches.
Straw: Letter to Dacre (Feb 2008) on DPA concerns. Provisions in bill for other areas and needed to go through by certain date.

Straw: plans to introduce 2year sentences for journos breaching data laws was subordinate to need to stop prison officers striking

From Guardian Live Blog:
The inquiry hears that Straw wrote to Dacre shortly after one of the meetings in February 2008 saying: "We're not looking to criminalise any conduct that is not currently against the law."
Robert Jay QC says Straw was faced with a "double-pincer movement" from media executives and because of the time constraints of getting the bill through parliament.
[So far, aside from interesting points on HRA, privacy and DPA, big Straw points Murdoch influence and train journeys with Brooks.

Short Break

Back at #Leveson. Straw: If I had more time think would have made same judgment on subjective defence.
Straw: I regret fact I didn't then bring in s55 amendment before the election and think it ought to have been brought in by now.
Straw: On CFAs received more representations from the regional and local press rather than national about effect on financing.
Straw: As a citizen as well as a politician, very concerned that we should not lose the regional and local press.
Straw: Had strong reps from the national press as well and thought had strong case. Proposed reduction was ambused bc of election.

Guardian Live Blog:
Robert Jay QC turns to conditional fee agreements (CFAs), which were also discussed in Straw's meetings with Rebekah Brooks and Paul Dacre.
Straw says he believed that CFAs had "not worked as intended". He received more lobbying from regional and local press than national newspapers on CFAs, he adds.
Straw: I had to drop custodial sentence part of bill cos I couldn't have the prisons going into meltdown
#Leveson: Before CFAs, libel, privacy, defamation only open to the wealthy. They moved the boot to the other foot.
#Leveson: Wonder if dropping to 10% thresehold or removing it moves boot back to the original foot [balance between press and claimants].

Leveson says no win no fees law meant ordinary people could sue newspapers: the boot was moved onto the other foot

'Sarah's Law':

Now discussing Sarah's Law campaign spearheaded by NoW under Rebekah Brooks' editorship

Straw asked about media influence on public policy. Refers to Sarah's Law NoW campaign and infamous paediatrician attack.
Straw: We had disagreement with Mrs Brooks over campaign. Ministers have to reflect the concerns of population but have to balance.
Straw: Lobbying by Brooks on Sarah's Law was "very persistant".
Straw: Editors + senior executives of popular newspapers, believe it is legitimate to lobby as representing views of their readers.

Straw: brooks may say she was just representing her readers on Sarah's law. But Sun readers are also my constituents
Straw: really, really tricky to make decisions about immigration where press lobby, public opinion becomes quixotic
Straw: rules about telling Parl first "often observed in the breach"

Straw statement: Examples where only option is to face down [press] criticism, e.g. around the identities of Thompson and Venables.
Straw: "Stuck to my guns" over Thompson/Venables. Papers desperate to find them + would have been at serious risk of harm or worse. 

Straw: pre-briefing speeches absurd
Straw: BBC Today prog particularly keen so their man at 0632 cd explain breathlessly what he'd learned confidentially

Government briefing is symptom of "too incestuous" relationship between press and politicos, says Jack Straw
Straw: Editors get authority and influence from the aggregate weight and value of their readers.
Straw: Inappropriate for editors to resort to the lowest common denominator of the prejudice of the their readers.

Straw: am struck by editors' neuroses over what their readers think of their product. 
Straw: big issue of newsroom culture. I think press need to be more examining of what they are doing

Straw at #leveson: papers have contributed to a significant degree to culture where politics is seen as boring & self serving
Straw: one month I can be best thing since sliced bread, next month my paternity questioned in same paper
Straw at #leveson: degree of voyeurism in British journalism, takes no account of responsibility of decision making

Jack Straw on criticism of politicians by newspapers: "There is a degree of voyeurism about the British press"
Straw: willful refusal by press to develop understanding of how governance works, they reduce to personality & conflict 
Straw: never taken part in a conspiracy, took part in plenty of cock ups to be sure
Straw: Major said those who've never made a mistake have never made a decision; I add they're called journalists
Straw: newspapers complain about turnout at elections but they have contributes to view that politics is boring 
Straw: I've never taken part in a conspiracy and I never saw any colleagues doing this, but I took part in plenty of cock-ups.
Straw: Major said only people who haven't made mistakes are those who have never made decisions. I add: they're called journalists.
Straw: The whole of my relationship with the police - particularly the Met - as Home Sec was framed by the Lawrence inquiry.

Straw: my relationship with Met Police while I was home secretary was framed above all by Stephen Lawrence inquiry
Straw: was reluctant to give Lawrence report to Downing St for PM's weekend box because of culture of leaking
Straw: Concerned about effect of Lawrence report leak on Met and family, obtained an injunction to stop presses of Sun Telegraph.

Straw: huge rumpus that I was going to gag press - was nonsense - #Leveson: I've had that problem too
Straw: That leak came from No10, know who it was, wasn't Alastair Campbell; they subsequently left

Straw: I knew who the leak came from in No 10 and they subsequently left. It wasn't Alastair Campbell.
Straw: When in gov saw some newspapers/journalists favoured by Downing St, had little groups - very incestuous and unhealthy. 
Straw: Closeness not the fault of just press or just political classes. Blame on both sides.
Straw: This inquiry is a mirror for journalists, many are very serious people concerned about the future. Need external regulation.

Straw: gradually some papers were being favoured by particular ministers. Had these little groups, v incestuous and v unhealthy
Straw: press can't go on claiming every other institution in land needs external regulation but that press shld regulate itself 
Straw: most journos want much higher standards 
Straw: there is quite a lot of external regulation already in terms of law on defamation

Straw: regulation of press has palpably failed. Last 50 years shown that. They only shift view on reg when they saw a tank coming

Straw: Should be tort of privacy as point of principle. Common law could develop in same way but Parliament needs to take job on.
Straw to #Leveson: There will be a responsibility on the body politic to ensure that your labours have not been wasted.
Straw: There will be that continuing momentum for change and some of us are going to do our best to ensure that it takes place.
Straw: If you leave it to self-regulation, we end up with this absurd situation where press are judge and jury in their own courts.

Straw says there should be some statutory underpinning of press
Straw: I don't think there'll be state control over content of what newspapers do. I think it's nonsensical
Jay responds: I think that's clear

Straw: Notion of "state control" of newspapers is nonsensical and a fantasy.
Straw: Murdoch used the Sun as the agent of his power with NoW not far behind with ST - partisan vehicles. Times is very different.
#Leveson: I have come under criticism for parachuting into a world that is not mine. Any assistance from you and others is welcome.
Straw says he will submit an additional written statement on the potential make-up of future press regulation.
Straw: What the body would be enforcing are behaviours in breach of the general law, need to make remedies far more effective.

Final straw remarks: all papers in News Int stable v different in culture. Sun without doubt question the most powerful paper
(Straw untroubled at #leveson, his train journeys w/ Brooks interesting & broadsides against political coverage)
(but he was up against Mladic, PMQs, Police Fed drama, King presser for public attention)