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News, gossip and insight from PoliticsHome Editor Paul Waugh

Brownites' revenge

Many Labour backbenchers think that Ed Miliband has so far had a "good war" in the battle against News Corp.

But given Gordon Brown's extraordinary broadside at News International today, it's worth noting how much of Miliband's spadework has been done by allies of the former PM.

Could it be that the 'son of Brown' tag that the Tories used so effectively to undermine Miliband is now becoming an asset?

Those around Miliband have certainly wanted to make a clean break with the last Government. They have to make a fine calculation as to whether the new-found benefits of Brown (moral outrage etc) can be outweighed by the disbenefits of Brown ('deficit denial' etc).

Yet the Brownites look like being royally vindicated on phone hacking. Tom Watson and Chris Bryant have blazed the trail over several years.

In fact, Alan Johnson admitted this morning that the last Government viewed the Watson/Bryant double act as an "irritant". Johnson, along with the Brown, wanted to take the path of least resistance and in the end didn't go for a judicial inquiry into dirty newspaper dealings.

Miliband's key aides-de-camp, Stewart Wood and Michael Dugher, were both in the trenches in Number 10 during Brown's darkest hours.

Knowing what they know of those years, they have been invaluable in Miliband's bold decision to step up to the plate on hacking. From his PMQs last week to his harrying of Jeremy Hunt yesterday, the Labour leader has been his most impressive to date, dispelling pesky questions about his own leadership.

Brown even appears to have a new-found gift for media management. Although he was expected to appear on 5 Live last night, an interview didn't materialise. Instead, he chose to give an exclusive to the BBC via its Scotland * correspondent Glenn Campbell.

The first wave of allegations was placed in the Guardian yesterday and the pre-recorded BBC interview released just before 9am means they will run even harder through today.

There are still some problems for Brown, however. He undoubtedly used a not-so-long spoon to sup with the News Corp devil. For all his complaints about being stymied by the Cabinet Secretary and the cops, as Prime Minister, he could have ordered a judicial inquiry if he'd really had the political will to do so.

As the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham pointed out today, serious sentences for data privacy breaches have been suspended since 2008 because politicians (of all parties) did a deal with the media. A swift way of David Cameron getting back on the front foot on this would be to agree to Graham's request.

Perhaps the trickiest problem for Brown is that he has no proof that the Sun used illegal means to get the story on his son Fraser.  It may well be just another unscrupulous hospital employee or even fellow patient who leaked the fact that the Browns were regular visitors. It's an appalling breach of medical confidentiality, but in this case it's unclear that the newspaper 'commissioned' the breach.

There is also the other issue of permission. Sun sources tell me that Rebekah Brooks gained Brown's permission to run the story. There are also claims that Brown effectively did a deal on the story, whereby George Pascoe Watson could break the exclusive online first and then Number 10 could put out their own statement.

But Brown today suggested that Brooks warned him that the Sun were going to go ahead and run the story anyway. If he can persuade the public that he was effectively bounced into revealing his son's life-threatening illness, Brown may well end up retaining voter sympathy.

 

*UPDATE: BBC NewsChannell controller Kevin Bakhurst has Tweeted me to say that the Glenn Campbell in question was not the Scottish corr, but another BBC reporter with the same name. I remain slightly baffled as to why it wasn't Nick Robinson or LauraK who were allocated the interview.

Kevin also reveals that the Guardian's Nick Davies was in the room for the interview, which underlines the point that this was part of a deliberate media management strategy.

FURTHER UPDATE: Turns out Glenn Campbell has been pursuing this phone hacking story. He's worked as the investigative correspondent for BBC South East's programme Inside Out.

 

 

 

 

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