The Labour party and Murdoch – the end of a loveless marriage?

We didn’t need you then and we don’t need you now. That would appear to be the somewhat revised view the Labour Party hold of the Murdoch empire as senior Labour figures such as Alastair Campbell and Lord Prescott have sought to down-play in recent days the role that News International played in helping secure New Labour three successive election victories between 1997 and 2010.

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch - Kingmaker no more?

Whilst many would certainly share that assessment it clearly wasn’t the view held by those at the top of the New Labour hierarchy back in the 1990’s when Tony Blair did everything he could to gain the support of Rupert Murdoch. With the Sun and the Times boasting combined daily circulation figures of around 3.5 million it is easy to see why one could be seduced by the supposed power of the Murdoch press, and all the more so when you’ve lost four successive elections as Labour had back then. It was surely a similar feeling of desperation to try and win over Murdoch that allowed David Cameron to permit Andy Coulson to enter the Tory ranks despite obvious misgivings over his suitability for the role.

Yet the role of Rupert Murdoch as king-maker has long been open to debate. Sure an endorsement by his papers’ gains you votes but just how many? Not enough in David Cameron’s case to secure the Conservatives an outright majority at last year’s general election. And in the case of the Labour Party, for all the votes gained through Murdoch’s backing how many have been lost as more ‘liberal’ supporters have switched over to the Liberal Democrats or the Green party in disgust at the inevitable tack to the right on issues such as immigration and crime that accompanies a Murdoch endorsement.

Moreover, Murdoch’s influence in deciding elections has also been damaged by the decline in the dominance of Britain’s two main political parties. The Sun’s famous Election Day headline about Neil Kinnock was all about discrediting the Labour Party on the assumption that if voters turned their backs on Labour, the only party to turn to was the Tories. Similar tactics were employed in the run-up to the last general election as the Sun set about trying to smear Gordon Brown on a daily basis only to find that whilst many deserted Labour not enough ran into the arms of the Conservatives.

Whilst pluralism in politics has slowly being eroding the power of Murdoch, recent events could potentially wipe it out completely. News International has acted quickly and boldly to try and prevent the damage caused by the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World spreading throughout the whole corporation but it may not be enough. That the Sun will continue to be Britain’s largest selling newspaper seems highly probable but it is much harder to believe that any political party would want to be seen courting Mr. Murdoch in quite the same way as both main political parties have in the past.

Ed Miliband’s statements over the past week have certainly sought to put distance between his party and News International. In repeatedly calling for Rebekah Brooks to resign, as well as demanding that Mr. Cameron sets up a judge-led inquiry and apologises for appointing Andy Coulson in the first place, Mr. Miliband has emphatically placed himself on the side of the public and set him and his party on a collision course with the Murdoch empire. Taking their lead from Ed, the Labour Party has collectively given News International a good kicking this week, a beating that many within the party have been saving up for a long time. However, it is easy to kick a man when they’re down, much less so if they get back up of the floor.

So the questions confronting Mr. Miliband now are these. How hard does the Labour Party seek to resist any comeback from News International and what position does the party take if they do recover? Of course the answer to the latter is dependent on the answer to the former. If the Labour party makes it their business to try and crumple the Murdoch empire they’d be wise not to expect too many favours if News International manages to ride out the storm.

Seeking to tear down News International as a corporation would be an extremely brainless move, most notably because the closure of News of the World has left 200 people out of work, the vast majority of who are completely innocent in all of this. That obviously won’t be what the Labour Party tries to do, but it must use this opportunity to redefine its relationship with Murdoch. That means not being afraid to open up the debate on how best we can ensure plurality of media ownership in this country. It means working across party boundaries to redefine journalistic culture and the cult of the media in the UK. Finally, it means setting a policy agenda that is reflective of the values of the Labour party rather than one that bends to the will of Murdoch.


Posted on July 16, 2011, in Labour Party, Looking Forward, Party Politics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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