Richard Ingrams: Sleaze that unites Watergate and phone hacking

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The Independent Online

John Dean, one of the few survivors of the Watergate scandal which brought down President Richard Nixon in 1974, has been making comparisons between Watergate and the phone-hacking scandal which now threatens the survival of an equally powerful figure, Rupert Murdoch.

Dean is in many ways well-qualified to pontificate on the latest revelations, as he has been doing on American TV. After all, one of the earliest assignments he had from Nixon after the break-in of the Democratic Party headquarters in Watergate was to raise money to "buy the silence" of the hired burglars, as well as of Messrs Hunt and Liddy, who masterminded the botched break-in.

Hush money has now become an issue in the phone-hacking scandal, with crusading Labour MP Tom Watson accusing News International of paying the jailed Clive Goodman about a quarter of a million pounds not to implicate any of his colleagues in court. The question is also raised of why Gordon Taylor was paid the staggering sum of £800,000 unless it was to keep his mouth shut about all those complicit in the hacking of his phone.

There is another similarity to Watergate in the second-rate seediness of all the main characters involved. On one side, Hunt, Liddy, Haldeman, Erlichman, Nixon himself. On the other Goodman, Coulson, Hinton, Rebekah Brooks and the Murdoch father and son.

What public-spirited citizen would willingly pass the time of day with any of these tacky individuals?

Those who travel by train also pay taxes

It's advisable always to be on the lookout for those government announcements which are made at this time of the year in the hope that they will not make too much of an impact, what with so many people being on holiday.

I cite as an example, the news this week that train fares are likely to go up by as much as 8 per cent next year and the same amount in the following two years. Not only the holiday but the continuing coverage of the riots ensured that this bombshell made only limited impact.

I heard about it myself while listening to a semi-articulate woman being interviewed on the BBC's Today programme. It transpired that her name was Theresa Villiers and that she was a government minister.

Defending a decision that will have come as a nasty shock to a great many of the listeners, Ms Villiers fell back on the familiar line that it was unfair to expect the taxpayers to subsidise the rail fares paid by commuters.

But politicians should not be allowed to get away with such sophistry. The thousands upon thousands who travel to work by train are all of them taxpayers. It is the purest humbug to make out that there are two quite distinct groups of people with conflicting demands, one lot scrounging on the other.

Where Cameron went wrong in Tottenham

David Cameron made an early start on Tuesday when he paid an unscheduled visit to war-torn Tottenham. There were not all that many up and about at 7am when he began his tour, meeting selected groups of volunteers and victims of the arson attacks. There was nothing in the nature of a walkabout.

Security was no doubt the concern of those advising Cameron to keep a low profile. It reminded me a bit of his predecessor Tony Blair, who despite being given the job of the EU's Middle Eastern peacemaker was reluctant to ever set foot in Gaza, preferring to stay put in a posh hotel in Jerusalem. Here too, concern about security was the excuse.

Cameron may also have been fearful of being heckled in front of press photographers had he ventured on to the Tottenham streets in broad daylight. His rival, Boris Johnson, had no such qualms. He braved the hecklers and was pictured brandishing a broom with the clean-up volunteers. In this he showed a surer political instinct than Cameron, as he did when wisely refraining from pious Cameron-style comments about the moral collapse of our "sick society" – a bit rich coming from a prominent member of the Chipping Norton set.