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British PM Grilled in Parliament Over Phone-hacking Scandal

LONDON, July 20 (Xinhua) — British Prime Minister David Cameron was grilled by parliament members Wednesday about the phone-hacking scandal in an emergency parliament debate called by the opposition Labour Party.

The session, held just ahead of the three-week parliamentary recess, was meant to pressure on the prime minister, who had to cut short his Africa trip to personally deliver a response to the criticizers in the parliament over the scandal.

(Courtesy: Xinhua/Reuters)

But even as Cameron did manage to dispel some public doubts during the debate, he was apparently unable to put a sudden end to all the hysteria over the phone-hacking scandal.

CAMERON FIGHTS BACK

The most frequent accusation against Cameron was his appointment of Andy Coulson, the ex-editor of the tabloid News of the World (NoW) that closed on July 10 over the phone-hacking scandal, as his communications chief and media spokesman.

During Wednesday’s session, Cameron told the parliament’s culture, media and sport committee that he regretted having hired Coulson and that he was very sorry about the furor it had caused.

He told the lawmakers that in hindsight “I would not have offered him the job, and I expect that he wouldn’t have taken it.”

Cameron took responsibility for hiring Coulson, but denied any fault regarding his decision as there was no evidence showing Coulson’s link to the phone hackings when he was offered the job, and what Coulson did during his work at No. 10 Downing Street was indisputably appropriate.

Yet Labour Party leader Ed Miliband accused Cameron of making the wrong choice of sticking with Coulson after repeated warnings about Coulson’s suitability for the job as Cameron’s press spokesman.

The lawmakers also questioned Cameron on his close relationship with senior executives of News International, publisher of NoW, and media baron Rupert Murdoch, owner of News International’s parent company News Corporation.

Cameron defended himself by saying that his Labour predecessors Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had maintained a closer relationship with the Murdoch empire than him, and tried to show initiative in urging changes in the country’s tradition of the close relationship between politics and the press.

Besides these attacks on Cameron’s personal judgement and behavior, the resignations of two high-ranking police officers have also added pressure to the Cameron administration. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson and Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates stepped down several days ago due to hiring former NoW Deputy Editor Neil Wallis as a communications adviser and ill handling of the phone-hacking investigation.

NO GAME-CHANGER

While the scandal is evidently weighing on the prime minister, it’s no game-changer for British politics as so far only a handful of top officials have been involved.

According to a Sky News survey, as the debate was drawing to an end, people who say the scandal damaged Cameron’s credibility have dropped from 58 percent to 47 percent.

Moreover, although the scandal would be dominating media headlines for a while, but eventually the public cares more about things closed linked to their livelihood such as the austerity measures and the ongoing welfare and healthcare reforms.

In the end, it is the living standard that voters are really worried about, commentator Philip Stephens wrote in an article, adding that he expects the hacking “saga” would be “more of a sideshow than a slide into national decadence” by the next election.

His argument was, to some extent, vindicated by a Populus poll released on Tuesday, which indicates the hacking scandal hasn’t turned out to be an opportunity for the opposition Labour Party to rally support.

According to the survey, if there were an immediate general election, the Labour Party would have a 39-percent voting intention, one percentage point down from the previous month.

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