Saturday, July 16, 2011

Murdoch's power has been broken. Could Cameron's be next?

For the past thirty years, the British political establishment has been in thrall to Rupert Murdoch - the 24th member of Tony Blair's Cabinet as he was once dubbed.

In the course of that period, his media empire has variously decided the outcome of elections, dictated the membership of Cabinets, shaped policies on a wide range of issues and even influenced whether or not the country went to war.

But this Wednesday, the worm finally turned as the Australian media tycoon's bid to buy 100pc of BSkyB was swept away in the storm that has engulfed him in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

It was as if three decades of pent-up resentment had suddenly been unleashed in a torrent , as the politicians who have been forced to kow-tow to Murdoch all that time finally broke free of his yoke.

There is a certain historical irony in the fact that it was the dear old House of Commons which finally delivered the coup-de-grace to Murdoch's dreams of further media expansion.

For those of us with long memories, it seemed a fitting reward for the way in which he conned Parliament into agreeing to his takeover of The Times and the Sunday Times in 1981 by giving 'editorial guarantees' he had no intention of keeping.

These undertakings enabled the then Trade and Industry Secretary John Biffen to sidestep a reference to the then Monopolies Commission.

Within a year, Murdoch had broken every single one of them, including sacking the Times' editor and transferring the two titles into a different part of his business.

I will give two small examples from the recent past of how the influence of his empire has distorted the political life of the nation.

In 2009, the now former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks let it be known that David Cameron's Tories would not get their support at the ensuing general election unless Dominic Grieve was replaced as Shadow Home Secretary. He duly was.

Then, last year, James Murdoch made it clear he wanted the Labour government's plans for regional news consortia scrapped. When the Coalition came in, they duly were.

These, however, are relatively trivial examples compared with, for instance, his papers' routine character assassination of certain party leaders and consultations with Tony Blair in the days prior to the invasion of Iraq.

But if Murdoch was undoubtedly the biggest loser of the week, it's not been a great seven days for Mr Cameron either.

Because it was not the Prime Minister who finally led the fightback against the Murdoch empire, but the man who wants his job - Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Mr Miliband undoubtedly took a gamble by calling a vote on the BSKyB bid – but within 48 hours every other party had followed his lead.

His reading of the public mood in this crisis has been consistently ahead of the curve and, for now at any rate, he has drawn a line under the troubles that had beset his leadership earlier in the summer.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, too, ends the week with his position enhanced, again at Mr Cameron's expense.

It was his threat to vote with Labour on Wednesday that forced the Prime Minister into his U-turn on the BSkyB deal, potentially altering the balance of power within the Coalition in the process.

Mr Clegg has also pointedly disassociated himself with the shadow of Andy Coulson's appointment as Downing Street's director of communications that continues to hang over Mr Cameron.

"It was his appointment and his appointment alone. We did discuss it... it was something that we didn’t see eye to eye on," he said.

This is where the phone-hacking scandal starts to play into the much bigger and wider issue of the Coalition's ultimate survival.

Some Lib Dems have started to speculate that Mr Cameron may emerge from the scandal so badly damaged that they could actually bring him down.

I have argued from the start of this Coalition that the Lib Dems somehow have to find a way of getting out of it alive, and this might just be their best opportunity.

We would then not just be looking at the downfall of a media empire, but the downfall of a government.

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Anonymous said...

I fail to see why the PM can be broken? What for? Perhaps if we have the full details of all contacts by the previous administration and we find that they did not host or attend functions with the press then I would agree.

The last time I purchased a newspaper was at the time of the MP expenses furore and I have kept as a momentum a Telegraph Magazine outlining all claims by MPs.

As to the Lib Dems fearing that Mr Cameron is tarnished I really think that they should look to their own positions which are pretty weak. I actually feel if there was an immediate election then the Conservatives would romp home. The public have been aware for years that stories have been obtained by illegal means and these means will always change depending on technology. We are not at all shocked. As always, the public are not being given credit by the so called people in the know.

I am also aware that journalists have reported the removal of Dominic Grieve and regional news consortia scrapped were political decisions. I can recall before the election that Mr Hunt was quoted as saying that in the event of their being elected he was opposed to using £130m of taxpayers money to prop up loss making itv regional news. He stated that he would use the money for rolling out superfast broadband. I read this in the financial press and they did not state that the issue was political. In the case of Regional News Consortia they analsysed the cost, the poor local framework which relied on heavy subsidies. I think you are a regional reporter and I wonder if your analysis is totally impartial? Similarly, I understood from all my reading that it was pure speculation about Dominic Grieve and I regret that I require evidence as I tire of rumour which develops into a story.

You are right that Ed Miliband has led the fight and Downing Street were slow of the mark. I suppose it is a tougher job being PM with so many pressing concerns demanding attention. I can recall the PM returning from Afghanastan late on a Tuesday night to have this issue on Wednesday. I can recall also from the financial websites that the Euro crisis was developing affecting our financial institutions. In my opinion, these issues matter more than hurt feelings of those hacked regardless of how unpleasant this may be. As yet, I remain unconvinced that any PM of whatever persuasion developed or implemented policy based on what News Corp wanted.

Finally, I think MPs need to be careful. I witnessed the most appalling Select Committee meeting last week when witnesses were rushed, interrupted and laughed at. I also heard inappropriate giggling from the audience and some obvious preplanned attacks. I believed the committee did not want to hear the evidence of the first witness - minds were made up. Being retired I also followed tweets from the session. The third witness was treated with contempt and I felt this was based on his working class accent. Not an example of how I want to see parliamentary enquiries conducted and sadly this event reminded me of Dr Kelly being harrassed before a Commons Committee before his death.

We are now thinking that MPs are enjoying all of this. Pay back time perhaps? All these indiscretions published and of course the use of taxpayers money to fund a rather lavish lifestyle.
Select Committe enquiries going on when a public enquiry is to start and a polce investigation going on. Grandstanding in my book as witnesses can properly not disclose much.

Bill Chapman said...

Yes, David Cameron has to go. Never mind the previous administration. He's the PM now and was far too close to this sordid, seedy crew.