David Cameron’s appearance at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday has been eagerly anticipated. Since November, the inquiry into press ethics has been hearing from journalists, politicians, celebrities, civil servants and ordinary people caught up in the news. The inquiry was set up to come to grips with the failure of press self-regulation in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, and the appearance of the Prime Minister represented what some commentators referred to as a ‘season finale.’
Cameron’s stint before Lord Justice Leveson came with high expectations, not least because the PM had so many questions to answer about his own place in the unfolding drama. These questions included ones about his cosy relationship to News International executives; his appointment of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his press secretary; and the decision to give Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt – a known Murdoch supporter – the responsibility for overseeing the controversial BskyB bid.
But to those hoping for a prime ministerial meltdown, new juicy scandals or admissions of guilt or impropriety, his appearance was a disappointment. Cameron emerged largely unscathed, ending his five-hour shift with a joke about child abandonment. Towards the end, Lord Justice Leveson’s tone seemed to shift from rigorous inquisition to reverential banter. As Twitter observer TigerTiger439 wrote, ‘DC has that same look of relief on his face as a schoolboy told he can go home early because of the snow. He’s got off lightly.’
To insiders, the most damaging revelation came in the form of a text to the Prime Minister from Rebekah Brooks, the former Head of News Corp’s British newspapers who now faces charges of perverting the course of justice. In the text, the News Corp executive – a close friend of the Camerons – offered to discuss a troublesome Times article ‘over country supper soon’ and further wrote: ‘I am so rooting for you tomorrow not just as a proud friend but because professionally we’re definitely in this together! Speech of your life? Yes he Cam!’
Much has been made of the text and its revelations about the insider culture of political elites. Though it speaks volumes about machinations in the Westminster Bubble, it is also unsurprising. If it reveals any deeper truths, these do not necessarily have anything to do with David Cameron or Rebekah Wade as individuals, but rather with the emerging contours of a political system which is dominated by a small minority of slick assembly line products. In his book, Political Communication and Social Theory, Aeron Davis described Cameron as the personification of a new generation of professionalised politicians who have been raised to lead from the inside. Among the younger generation of cabinet members, half took Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford; more than half worked as researchers or policy advisers, and half have been journalists.
The younger generation of politicians have had precious little glimpse of life outside politics, as conceived in elite educational institutions, think tanks and cabinet offices. They excel in managing media appearances and maintaining good relations with journalists, but their political views have little bearing on life experience, according to Davis’ research.
It is therefore little wonder that David Cameron, as the star product of this machinery, performed well under the pressure of the Leveson Inquiry. His appearance was polished and rehearsed. He showed great ease and comfort with answering abstract questions about the relationship between media and politicians.
‘The relationship has been too close, and we need to get it on a better footing,’ Cameron commented.
Though he was relaxed and confident in the broader and more abstract discussions of the relationship between media and politicians, he seemed physically uncomfortable when the specifics of his friendship with Rebekah Brooks were raised.
‘You have to take care when you have personal friendships, but that can be done, and I like to think I have done that,’ he said.
This, however, is in fact where he did take a wrong turn. When Brooks wrote that she would be ‘rooting for you tomorrow not just as a proud friend but because professionally we’re definitely in this together,’ she highlighted exactly why citizens are increasingly cynical about politics. For the new generation of professionalised political insiders, the walls between politics and the press have crumbled and they’re ‘in this together,’ personally, professionally and politically. It confirmed suspicions that for the likes of Cameron and Brooks, favourable media coverage deals are sealed over intimate country suppers.
This, however, does not mean that Cameron is involved in any sinister conspiracy. More than anything, his appearance showed that the Prime Minister is a slick assembly line product of the Westminster Bubble’s politician-journalist nexus. He is the symptom, rather than the cause of a broader problem, and until that problem is addressed, there is little room for change.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill