Leading article: Labour's sleepers awake

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The Independent Online

A remarkable transformation has taken place in the senior ranks of the Labour Party. When the News of the World phone-hacking scandal broke last year, few in the party took much of an interest. Yet now fresh allegations have resurrected the scandal and senior Labour figures are taking a very close interest indeed.

The former culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, revealed to this newspaper last week that her phone had been hacked 28 times. All of the Labour leadership candidates have called for a thorough investigation. And Alan Johnson, who was home secretary when the allegations were made, asked some pointed questions of his predecessor, Theresa May, in the Commons yesterday on this matter.

All this activity raises the question: why did all these former ministers not pursue this matter when they were in office and in a position to ensure that the matter was investigated properly? None of them raised a squeak when Scotland Yard came to its odd decision last year not to follow up the claims of widespread hacking by the newspaper. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that a fear of crossing Rupert Murdoch's mighty media empire in the year before a general election got the better of them.

Still, political interest in this affair comes better late than never. The Metropolitan Police yesterday announced that it will reopen its investigation in the light of allegations that the paper's former editor, Andy Coulson, not only knew about the phone-hacking, but actively encouraged the practice. Mr Coulson, who is now Downing Street's director of communications, is apparently willing to be interviewed by the police.

But those allegations about Mr Coulson's behaviour are not the only ones to have emerged. It has also been suggested that the Metropolitan Police soft-pedalled its investigation into hacking because of its close links with the newspaper under suspicion. It is therefore of enormous importance that the force understands its behaviour will be closely scrutinised now.

There are grounds for some optimism. As well as the awakening of Labour politicians to the seriousness of the issue, Keith Vaz, the Home Affairs Select Committee chairman, has said that he will press Assistant Commissioner John Yates about this matter today. We should remember that it is not just the conduct of Mr Coulson which is at issue here. This business has also raised serious questions about the independence of the Metropolitan Police. This tawdry affair has already been swept under the establishment carpet once. The same thing must, on no account, be allowed to happen again.