The phone hacking fallout continues as London mayor Boris Johnson was forced to disclose a string of calls and meetings with News International executives.
The mayor’s diary came under scrutiny earlier this year after a dinner with Rupert Murdoch failed to make it onto City Hall’s register of hospitality or Boris’ reports to the London Assembly. Johnson has resisted calls for the diary’s contents to be made public for nearly a year and a half but a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the BBC and the intervention of the Information Commissioner led to its disclosure on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme.
While Boris Johnson hasn’t exactly made a secret of his links with the Murdochs — he courted criticism during the Olympics by inviting Rupert Murdoch and his wife to the Games — the revelations of yet more previously-undisclosed meetings and phone calls does the mayor no favours. The mayor’s office does assure us that the phone hacking scandal wasn’t discussed during any of these calls. Oh well, that’s alright then. But wait! The leader of the London Assembly Labour group, Len Duvall, doesn’t agree:
“Boris has assured us that all meetings had been disclosed, now we discover there were additional meetings and phone calls with individuals from, and associated with, News International.
“These meetings coincide with key periods in the police’s investigation into phone-hacking, and it is stretching credulity to believe that the biggest scandal to engulf the company was not discussed at any of these meetings.”
And neither does Lib Dem London Assembly leader Caroline Pidgeon:
“To discover that his published monthly engagements don’t reflect his diary is quite extraordinary and leads to questions of why he’s trying to hide some of his key engagements.”
So who were these calls to? The Guardian reports two phone conversations with Rebekah Brooks and one with James Murdoch along with two face-to-face meetings with a News International lobbyist involved in the phone hacking scandal and Charlie Brooks. The mayor’s justification for not releasing this information before now was that the FOI requests specifically asked about the existence of meetings rather than conversations. He also said that disclosure could lead to a risk to his security.
Boris Johnson has enjoyed a boost to his popularity post-Olympics at a time when the newly-Twittering PM David Cameron is looking decidedly out of favour (especially after his apparent wavering over the Leveson inquiry). Johnson used his Telegraph column this weekend to come out to bat for London’s middle-classes unable to afford to buy property in the capital, apparently fuelling further speculation on a potential future challenge for Conservative Party leadership.
Photo by richwat2011 in the Londonist Flickr pool.