Media Digest 17/3/15

By Rowan Williams

An undercover investigation into child abuse committed by MP Cyril Smith and other public figures in London was scrapped by police, a whistleblower has revealed. The Liberal MP, who died in 2010, had been arrested in the 1980s during a probe into child abuse, and was reportedly released hours after his arrest. Detectives were ordered to hand over all evidence relating to Cyril Smith, including video evidence and notebooks, under threat of prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, the whistleblower has claimed. Officers were reportedly told to expect rapid promotion in return for handing over evidence. The undercover investigation was dropped shortly afterwards. The whistleblower, a former police officer, claims that the order to drop the investigation came from a senior office unknown to detectives. London’s Metropolitan police have said they are investigating the claims. Cyril Smith, who had been MP for Rochdale, has previously been the target of sexual abuse allegations, including from Labour MP Simon Danczuk.

Polls have opened in Israel’s elections, in what is expected to be a close race between incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and centre-left alliance Zionist Union. Zionist Union, co-led by Yitzhak Herzog and Tzipi Livni, has offered to repair relations with Palestine and the international community should it be successful in the elections. Israel’s proportional representation voting system means that no party has ever won an outright majority in the polls. While the Zionist Union has been predicted to win the most seats, a coalition between Netanyahu’s Likud party and right-wing parties could allow Netanyahu to remain in power for a fourth term. Netanyahu’s hawkish stance on Palestine and Iran has made him popular with right-wing voters, and he has said that he would never allow the creation of a Palestinian state during his fourth term; but rising living costs in Israel and socio-economic problems have become important political issues during Netanyahu’s tenure. Some observers have said that Netanyahu is less strong on these issues.

A senior US diplomat has said it is up to each individual country whether they not they join the new China-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), as a growing number of Western nations ignore pressure from Washington and join the bank. France, Germany and Italy have followed Britain in stating that they would join the institution. Observers have described the bank’s popularity in the West as a soft power success for China and a diplomatic setback for the US, after Washington questioned the AIIB’s standards of governance and social safeguards. The US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Daniel Russel, has reiterated US cries for high standards in the bank, but conceded that other countries were free to reach their own conclusions over the bank.

The Papers

Money and tax issues make the headlines as Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget announcement day draws near. The Guardian leads with news of a “£1m inheritance tax giveaway” planned by the Conservatives in the Budget, writing that the paper has seen ‘sensitive’ papers revealing “plans aimed at higher income, wealthier households”. Properties worth under £1 million are to become exempt from inheritance tax under the plans. The Daily Telegraph writes that a “£6bn election giveaway” of tax cuts and income boosts is planned by the Chancellor, as falling inflation and lower borrowing costs lead to a higher rate of government saving. This saving is in turn passed on to the public. Public sector cuts make the headline slot in The Financial Times, with the paper reporting a warning that such cuts are threatening the sector’s health. The head of Britain’s spending watchdog, Sir Amyas Morse, likened senior civil servants to surgeons not understanding “where the heart was”. The Times leads with criticism from Home Office Minister Lord Bates that too many babies are “born to migrants”, as numbers hit the “highest level since records began”. Lord Bates stated that reducing immigration would reduce the strain on Britain’s public services from children of migrants. The Independent leads with news of leaked emails showing “Labour’s war with Unite”. The party stands accused of manipulation of the union’s candidate selection process.

British Media on China

On the death of Xu Caihou: the death of fallen General Xu Caihou has received coverage from the BBC and The Guardian. The BBC reports that following Xu’s death, “the criminal investigation against him would be dropped”, but that plans remain to deal with Xu’s “illegal gains”. The Guardian reports that China’s People’s Liberation Army has “denounced” Xu as “‘pathetic and shameful” after his death, in a “crowing denunciation”. The dropping of investigations means that China’s ruling party “will not have to risk any embarrassment” that could have come from details of graft being revealed by an investigation, the paper writes.

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