Phone-hacking damage report: Phase two

Phone-hacking damage report: Phase two
Phone-hacking damage report: Phase two

As the dust settles on the first stage of the phone-hacking scandal, politics.co.uk looks at what's happened to the key players.

By Ian Dunt

Rupert Murdoch
Damage taken: 8/10

In a matter of days, his stranglehold over British politics has disintegrated. Rupert Murdoch went from kingmaker to whipping boy with a speed that only an age of live blogs and 24-hour news can achieve. The threat of FBI investigations over the alleged phone-hacking of September 11th victims in the US, combined with rumours of possible legal action for police payments, suggest his American economic base might be fracturing. Shareholder anxiety is increasing, despite a slight improvement in the share price in recent days. In Australia, there are suggestions the political class is turning against him as well. While he avoided disaster during his appearance at the culture, media and sport committee, the media mogul appeared detached and distracted. At best, his evidence suggested he had little understanding of what was taking place in his company. The cancellation of the BSkyB deal, a long-term personal goal, will have had a major financial and emotional impact.


James Murdoch
Damage taken: 6/10

It was difficult not to sympathise with James Murdoch as he sought to protect his father from Tom Watson's forensic questioning at the culture, media and sport committee. But political journalists took badly to his protracted bouts of management-speak, where he managed to communicate very little despite talking at length. As a first test for the man raised to take over from his father, things could not be going much worse. News International has benefited from the focus on the Metropolitan police and Downing Street, but with multiple points of attack across its global holdings many analysts believe it will emerge from the current crisis a shadow of its former self. Will James even have an empire to take over?

Les Hinton
Damage taken: 7/10

On the up side, his pay-off is thought to be worth several million dollars and he reportedly maintains the confidence of Murdoch, who says he would trust him with his life. On the down side, he had to resign as publisher of the Wall Street Journal and is facing calls for an investigation from two US senators. The beating heart of the Murdoch machine was one of phone-hacking's first casualties. There may be worse to come for him.

Wendi Deng
Damage taken: -9/10

Rupert Murdoch's beautiful young wife became the unexpected star of the show last Tuesday, after startled onlookers noted her impressive reflexes during the attempted foam pie attack. The Chinese-born businesswoman beat James Murdoch and several police officers to it, with a right-handed slap to the assailant's face. What most impressed everyone was her lightening reflexes. Her position as a talked-about subplot to the saga was duly secured and several grown men went weak at the knees. She didn't do her husband's PR image any harm either.

Jonnie Marbles
Damage taken: 5/10

His attempt to cover Rupert Murdoch's face in shaving foam failed, ending up with just a little bit on the mogul's jacket and a sore jaw. He was the victim of a surprisingly quick-witted attack by his target's young wife. He faces criminal charges. His action prompted an independent review of parliamentary security which could see it become more difficult for the public to attend committee hearings. Critics of Murdoch were even more irritated by his actions than supporters, with many arguing his action would increase public sympathy for the 80-year-old and distract attention from the hearing. Even UK Uncut, the organisation he is connected to, distanced itself from him. All in all: mission unsuccessful.

Rebekah Brooks
Damage taken: 9/10

Rebekah Brooks cut a sour and exhausted figure when she appeared at the culture, media and sport committee. She had resigned from her position as News International chief executive, been arrested and interrogated for several hours by police and become a by-word for past regrets in Westminster. It's a spectacular fall from grace for a figure used to the royal treatment from prime ministers down. Barring a complete exoneration in both the criminal investigation and – just as important – the judicial inquiry, it's hard to see her ever coming back from the events of the last few days. It probably doesn't help that her hairstyle is now the subject of pub jokes across the country.

Andy Coulson
Damage taken: 9/10

If anyone has come out of the phone-hacking scandal worse than Brooks, it must be Coulson. David Cameron went out of his way to protect his former communications chief but ultimately was forced to distance himself. As the News of the World man who went to Downing Street, he provided the through-line between phone-hacking allegations and Cameron that Labour needed to secure its political advantage. Every new development, such as the news he received informal advice from Neil Wallis, worsens the situation for those connected to him. It's still quite possible that in a couple of year's time he will be remembered as the man who inadvertently brought down a prime minister.

David Cameron
Damage taken: 7/10

David Cameron's promise to apologise if Coulson is found to have known about phone-hacking managed to buy him some time yesterday, but he will never quite escape the shadow cast by the last few weeks. His evasiveness over discussions on BSkyB with Brooks and Murdoch will not lead to his downfall, but it makes him look slippery and untrustworthy – a PR disaster of which he will be acutely sensitive. The allegation that he was wilfully ignorant of concerns around Coulson – that he blocked himself off from knowledge of his communication chief's past – will cling to him while the judicial inquiry takes place. His fate is now permanently tied into that of a man about whom we learn more daily. Not only that, but commentators noted icily how little support he received from leading Tories during speculation over his leadership and the hesitant, unconvincing approach Downing Street took to the crisis. The prime minister is now at the mercy of the criminal investigations and the judicial inquiry. Anything found against Coulson is also a finding against his judgement. That is not a thought which will help him sleep at night.

Ed Miliband
Damage taken: -7/10

While his performance may not have seen substantial elevations in his or Labour's poll ratings, he has emerged from the scandal with a visibly more confident demeanour and the backing of his MPs. For a leader who was whispered about by his own backbenchers it is the last part of that statement which will be the most reassuring. He has proved himself able to grasp the political dimensions of an issue and act with confidence and decisiveness. The press pack now treats him with a seriousness it simply did not have a month ago. While some complained that his attack on the Cameron-Coulson link was too partisan, subsequent developments have served to at least partially vindicate it. On several issues he called the shots, a position that is almost impossible to secure as opposition leader. He will enjoy his summer break.

Jeremy Hunt
Damage taken: 4/10

The culture, media and sport secretary took more damage than expected due largely to ungenerous treatment from the prime minister. His handling of the BSkyB bid, which largely involved a game of chicken with Ofcom where he all-but pleaded with the regulator to take it out his hands, was not the most rewarding of spectacles. Cameron's decision to make him answer questions from Miliband in the Commons damaged the prime minister but it also humiliated Hunt, as he desperately appealed to MPs not to ask him about issues above his pay grade. A slip-up during a Commons debate in which he revealed the prime minister had discussed the BSkyB takeover with Brooks and Murdoch despite Cameron's repeated attempts to avoid the question will have only destabilised him further. For a man once touted as a rising star in Cabinet, Hunt is now the subject of whispers of a totally different nature. Certainly those reports of him being bred for the health secretary role no longer have the same ring to them.

Chris Bryant
Damage taken: -8/10

The Labour MP and former Europe minister's lonely struggle to reveal the extent of phone-hacking has been entirely vindicated by recent events. He was praised across the Commons for adopting a cross-party tone in his pronouncements on the subject and has presented a moderate and reliable figure throughout the row. His star has never been higher.

Tom Watson
Damage taken: -9/10

He was doing well anyway. Every time he rose to speak in the Commons a hush swept over the chamber as MPs waited for some new piece of evidence to emerge. He has become less of an MP and more of an old-school sleuth. One could imagine chair handles being gripped fearfully in News International headquarters every time his name was mentioned. But the real moment of victory came during Murdoch's appearance at the culture, media and sport committee. It may have been because his fellow MPs' capacity for forensic question was so pitiful, but Watson came across very well indeed, winning plaudits for style and content. It also happened to be some of the most gripping moments of political theatre we'd seen in years. His reputation is such that he is currently tipping over from being a well-known parliamentarian to an out-and-out celebrity.

John Yates
Damage taken: 9/10

The assistant Met commissioner was already the subject of cruel jokes after his eight hour review into phone-hacking decided, unsurprisingly, to do nothing. By the time he was named as the man conducting due diligence checks on Neil Wallis, a former News of the World deputy editor who also happened to be a personal friend, people began to wonder how much worse it could get for him. His response to that accusation – that what he was tasked with fell far short of due diligence – saved him somewhat but not entirely. His appearances before the home affairs committee have been humiliating and difficult to watch. He was forced to resign, despite some strongly worded statements about his integrity. The judicial inquiry could still vindicate him entirely, but by then it will be too late.

Andy Hayman
Damage taken: 9/10

Andy Hayman went from a low key figure to front page laughing stock after delivering a pitch-perfect example of how not to give evidence to a select committee. Most journalists were left with their mouths hanging open as the former assistant commissioner's excessively informal approach to, well, pretty much everything earned him a stinging rebuke in the subsequent report by MPs. It the political equivalent of walking into a packed room, knotting a rope and then hanging yourself. The fact he actually took a job at News International after leaving the force was indicative of the entire scandal.

Sir Paul Stephenson
Damage taken: 7/10

While the Met commissioner has resigned over the scandal, his reputation has survived intact. This was partly to do with cold political calculation. Labour could damage Cameron more effectively if it pretended that his actions prompted the honourable resignation of a decent commissioner. In the days before he left, however, politicians weren't being so kind. His relationship with Neil Wallis, who did communications work for the Met and a spa the commissioner stayed at for free prompted an angry meeting with David Cameron. It also saw several prominent politicians, from the home secretary to the deputy prime minister, emphatically fail to support him. A statement on his behaviour and the Met's relationship with Wallis was tabled for Monday afternoon in the Commons. He resigned, rather unusually, on Sunday night. When Theresa May did stand up in the chamber a few hours later there was no mention of Wallis. Regardless of his limited personal culpability, there is a strong likelihood that the judicial inquiry will find he presided over a police force that failed to investigate industrial-scale law breaking despite having all the evidence it needed in three bin bags in the basement. For now, however, he can compliment himself on a 'good' resignation. In a scandal this deadly, that's tantamount to a happy ending.

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