Watching Newsnight last night and reading some of the discussion in the papers this morning, the select committee report on Murdoch and phone hacking has stirred some people up. And, on the whole, the line seems to be that the report would be much more powerful if it were a unanimous report, rather than split over the more provocative conclusions. As well as some of those involved and many media pundits, Tony Wright, the former chair of the Public Administration committee, has suggested this is much the best way to proceed. Ofcom could read their report and draw their own conclusions. There is probably something in this. And debate since has been diverted from the content of the rest of the report. The only people who will be happy about this include Murdoch and Louise Mensch, one Tory MP who likes the spotlight.
But this all reminds me of a famous quote from an MP called Sir Hugh Rossi who was a chair of the Environment Select Committee in the 1980s. His committee decided:
“as an act of conscious policy, not to become involved in topics which are the subject of major political controversy or which are likely to be debated on the floor of the House in any event. Instead we decided to identify and concentrate on areas of public concern where the political parties had not defined their attitudes and in which it appeared that ministers had not much time to investigate in depth for themselves. In this way we would enhance our prospects of producing unanimous all-party reports which would thereby carry conviction and influence the decision-making process.” (cited in Butler et al (1994), Failure in British Government: the politics of the Poll Tax)
His committee failed to investigate the Poll Tax! Too contentious!
What is the point of committees and politicians if they avoid contentious issues for the sake of unanimity?