Chris Bryant: Now we know the Commons has been lied to

What James Murdoch still doesn't seem to get is that his company targeted the phones of nearly 6,000 people
  • @ChrisBryantMP

Well, James ain't no Rupert. He's better groomed, he's much more loquacious, and he seems to need fewer lawyers (of the 14 seats reserved for them in the select committee room yesterday only six were taken). There's also less of the casual violence of his father, who punctuates all his comments by hitting the table. But then James shows his nervousness in different ways. His flushed rosy cheeks, his deliberately corrugated brow, his occasional sips of water when he's asked whether he has lied – all betrayed a man who knew he was in trouble.

He'd prepared himself, of course. He had mastered the use of "I want to be absolutely clear about this", and "I want to help the committee" and "I have reflected on that". He tried to present himself as the model of a reasonable moderate. He knew how to remain polite at all times, calling the members Mr Watson, Mr Rotherham, Mr Masters.

He made some admissions too. He apologised for paying private detectives to trail the lawyers of the victims of phone hacking, members of the royal family and members of the committee. He expressly apologised to Tom Watson. And he apologised to Steve Rotherham for the Sun's mendacious coverage of the Hillsborough disaster (NB Kelvin Mackenzie).

But in the end he used the only defences left to him. First there was what we might call the Theresa May defence. It was everyone else's fault and he had been terribly let down by his staff. In particular he reserved this attack for Tom Crone and Colin Myler, his once loyal lieutenants, who have now called his evidence into question. He was full of casual asperity. He said Myler had been appointed to clear up the paper (which suggests that they knew there was a bigger problem under Coulson than they have thus far admitted) but had failed to do so. He couldn't speculate about Crone and Myler's motives (thereby suggesting the darkest of intentions) but he was clear that they had misled the Committee.

Next there was the extraordinary defence that, in Mr Murdoch's own words, "this wasn't a failure of governance, it was a failure of transparency", which is really a linguistic perversion for "I did everything I should have done but unfortunately you were lied to – by other people". It is certainly true that by my reckoning the Commons has been lied to now on about 486 occasions (my poor researcher has counted).

Successive News International executives have blustered their way through evidence, but, Mr Murdoch, this certainly was a matter of governance. No CEO of a construction firm could have passed the buck in the way you have tried to do. In the end it's your company, your employees, your profits and your responsibility.

But incompetence was Murdoch's next defence. He said that things were not "top of mind" so often that I started thinking of Alice (in Wonderland) who cried "curiouser and curiouser" – only in Mr Murdoch's case it was incuriouser and incuriouser. So astoundingly incurious was he that his conduct appears to have been tantamount to phenomenal carelessness (at least) and quite probably wilful blindness.

So, despite forking out the best part of a million pounds to buy Gordon Taylor's silence he wants us to believe he didn't ask why lawyers thought News International were bound to lose the case. Despite the fact that the newspaper was still maintaining there was just one rogue reporter involved, he never bothered to ask why on earth the paper's royal reporter would hack Gordon Taylor's phone. And despite the fact that he knew an expensive legal brief had been prepared laying out why the News of the World had to settle the Taylor case, he never asked to see it.

It all beggars belief, because what Mr Murdoch still doesn't seem to get is that it was not a company but his company that targeted the phones of nearly 6,000 people, paid police officers for information, corrupted the Metropolitan Police, used private investigators to harass and intimidate political opponents and mounted one of the most substantial cover-ups in history.

Why shareholders would have any confidence in this man, who by his own admission is incurious and slapdash as a manager, and a poor judge of his employees' characters, I cannot comprehend. The police investigations are still ongoing, but may lead to a substantial number of NI employees, including the very senior figures who crafted the cover-up, going to prison.

But we now know, beyond doubt, that the Commons has been lied to. The committee will now have to decide who lied to it and may want to have the liars summoned to the bar of the House. But however many employees the Murdochs kick off the ladder, it's the man at the top who is really culpable for the management culture that allowed all this to happen.

Chris Bryant is a Labour MP