The Corner

A Little Translation

The New York Times has run an analysis of the domestic political implications of the News of the World scandal. About the opportunity for Mr. Miliband, the Times has this to say:

Mr. Miliband, widely viewed as a weak rival to Mr. Cameron until the recent revelations about the extent of phone hacking emerged this month, appeared to view the matters as weighty enough to form a new platform for Labour, issuing a sonorous call that sounded like a promising election plank.

“We have to ask ourselves deeper questions,” he said. “What does it say about our country? How did we let this happen? And how do we change to ensure that this does not happen again?” He said all the recent scandals in British life were caused by a lack of accountability among those in high places. “All are about the irresponsibility of the powerful, people who believed they were untouchable,” like the Murdoch executives who ran the company’s newspapers in Britain, he said.

I noted the potential that the scandal has provided for Mr. Miliband yesterday, but I had not expected quite this. I had thought that the Labour leader would jump on the chance vaguely to play the knight in shining armor, and try to taint David Cameron for his vague connection to the scandal. Instead, the Times suggests he will try to carve the anger into an “election plank.” Let me translate a little from British English into American English for you: Whenever a politician in the United Kingdom asks “deeper questions” about “our country,” and casts such inquiries against the backdrop of “accountability,” he means that he wants to regulate. (“Regulate” is the British English word for “ruthlessly control.”)

He will not be alone in jumping for the red tape, but what exactly does Miliband intend to do to “ensure that this does not happen again?” Hacking mobile phones is already a crime. Stealing personal information is very clearly against the law. So is bribing police officers. This scandal was indeed a failure of a private corporation, but it was not one which could have been prevented by more regulation. It is akin to the call for greater gun control when a madman walks into a school and starts shooting. Do we really believe that another “Gun Free Zone” sticker or a longer waiting period is going to dissuade someone who is already happy to breach the rules against murder and GBH? The British government needs to make sure that those responsible for criminal activity are dealt with. And then it needs to back off.

It’s just too opportunistic. Ed Miliband fails to mention that the last “recent scandal in British life” featured members of parliament brazenly using their expense claims to supplement their pay, sometimes claiming for houses they didn’t live in, duck houses, and, in one case, for a moat; a scandal which was brilliantly exposed by the Telegraph. It is all too easy for him to jump into the shoes of Wat Tyler and promise to man the barricades, but the reality of British life in 2011 is that the vast majority of “the powerful people who believe they are untouchable” are happily at home in government. And, as Mark Steyn frequently asks, “Who will regulate the regulators?”

The question is simple. Would we prefer a system in which a free press is free to make such mistakes (and in which they are prosecuted for any illegal behavior, of course), or one in which the state has such control over the press that they have no wiggle room? As conservatives we know that there is no perfect system, but we do have to choose one. ”I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty, than those attending too small a degree of it,” said Thomas Jefferson. I’m with Tom.


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