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The Sketch: Backbenchers feast for a day on lying, cheating, thieving and bribing

  • @SimonSketch

What a victory for the back benches – if it turns out to be a victory. The Commons, incredibly, may have done something in a timely way to change the course of events. How can Jeremy Hunt wave through the BSkyB deal now? How can he face the Commons after that lot yesterday, and say he has no power to stop the Murdoch takeover?

Chris Bryant was granted his emergency debate on phone hacking. Backbenchers rose to the occasion from all sides of the House. Between them they established a central, organising fact: Rupert Murdoch's News International – its directors, editors and contractors – are not, in Frank Dobson's phrase, "fit and proper persons to run a minicab company let alone the largest media organisation in Britain".

Tom Watson, in a magnificently understated J'accuse, listed the charges against the company and concluded that James Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation in Europe and Asia, be suspended for his plan to cover up, pay off and silence victims with a gagging contract. I don't think we've had James in the frame before. One of those parliamentary silences developed around the mere sound of his name.

As for the "fit and proper person" test – John Whittingdale and Simon Hughes told us that it's a matter for Ofcom. And that body can intervene at any time if it thinks a media company is in breach of its licence. So surely Jeremy Hunt can't tell the Commons he can judge only the case of "plurality". It'll be fun to watch him try. From everything said, News International is in breach of all the 10 Commandments, Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Broadcasting Code and very possibly Newton's Laws of Motion. It and its management is, on its own evidence, guilty of lying, cheating, thieving, bribing, corrupting, suborning and going around with a hairstyle like a hat made of vipers.

An inquiry isn't the important thing just now – half a dozen inquiries over the years have only started gathering evidence. No, the immediate quarry is the deal for News Corp to buy all of BSkyB. Nicholas Soames threw his weight into the scales by saying the evidence of "clear criminality" that had recently emerged surely meant "a pause" was in order. He also squashed Labour attempts to claim the moral high ground by pointing out that the rot had been around for years. So many of them on and around the front benches are in hock to News International with jobs, columns, consultancies, influence.

Ed Miliband said sadly the hiring of Andy Coulson shows the PM's judgement is defective. But hasn't Ed himself got a Murdoch man on his own private staff? Along with the daughter of a News of the World editor?

In sum: David Cameron will be seething, Jeremy Hunt will be cornered, Chris Bryant and Tom Watson will be lionised, John and Sally Bercow will be delighted, and the Tory whips will be preparing for action as and when the Procedure Committee lays before the House its proposals for the re-election of the Speaker and his deputies. As for Murdoch? Who knows what the old crocodile feels, if "feels" is the right word.