In the run up to the 2010 general election, a viral marketing campaign spread around Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, airing concerns, held by many, that the relationship between the Conservative Party and the Murdoch press heralded the beginning of the end for the BBC.
It featured the slogan, “Vote Cameron, Get Murdoch”. It said what the official Labour party campaign couldn’t, or wouldn’t say. But while we, the electorate, all knew the relationship between the conservatives and the Murdoch press had something of a whiff about it, the stench surrounding New Labour’s affiliation with News International, during the Blair years, effectively ruled it out as the official line of attack from the Gordon Brown camp.
But it’s message most certainly reached the ears of David Cameron, because it echoed the feelings held by many millions of ordinary citizens, following remarks made by James Murdoch at his International Television Festival address, in Edinburgh of 2009. In that speech, he made it clear that the Murdoch press would forcefully endorse a change in legislation, which would lead to the restructuring of the licence fee and open up the entire BBC platform to more commercial competition–something the conservative party have argued in favour of for decades.
This, it was argued, meant that the decision over whether or not the proposed Murdoch take over of BSkyB, should be handled by an independent commission, rather than by the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, because the ‘commercial competition’ Murdoch was undoubtedly referring to was the American media giant he and his father both head.
News Corp. regularly hold dinner parties and charity balls, which the very senior politicians who would be in charge of the decision over the BSkyB deal eagerly attend. Indeed David Cameron remains close personal friends with Rebekah Brooks, who until her arrest on Sunday was the head of News International.
Cameron has insisted, all along, that his decision to appoint Andy Coulson, as Murdoch’s eyes and ears in 10 Downing Street, was merely giving his friend, the disgraced former editor of the News of the World a “second chance” and that he knew nothing of warnings, given to him in the lead up Coulson’s appointment, by the Guardian newspaper and the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, over Coulson’s close ties to the News of the World hacking scandal, which had been brewing on the side-lines for almost 5 years previous to the recent revelations, that News of the World had targeted not only celebrities and politicians, but private individuals as well.
So far, at least, the scandal has resulted in the resignation of News International CEO, Rebekah Brooks, the head of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Paul Stephens and his deputy commissioner John Yates and the opening of multiple criminal investigations on both sides of the Atlantic, into who at News Corp. knew what and when they knew it, in relation to the hacking of mobile phones belonging to victims of both the 7/7 and 9/11 terrorist attacks on London and New York, the interception of voicemail messages sent to the phones of dead service personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and the targeting of teenage murder victim, Milly Dowler, as well as numerous other accusations that other bereaved families may have also been targeted by the now defunct News of the World tabloid, which at the time the hacking took place, was edited by Andy Coulson.
If Cameron is determined to stick to this line, that he knew nothing of the concerns for Coulson’s appointment, in the coming weeks he should expect a storm of objections from all sides of the house. I have personally signed at least three separate petitions, containing thousands of other signatures, addressed to MPs, calling for a full investigation of News International’s practises.
I have also written separately, on this issue, to both the conservative MP James Wharton and his predecessor in the Stockton South constituency, Labour’s Dari Taylor, on at least three separate occasions–each time echoing concerns for the uncomfortably close relationship between government and the Murdoch press.
One can only assume, by law of averages, that I am not the only constituent in the entire United Kingdom to have done this. So, if Prime Minister Cameron is determined to pretend he didn’t hear the concerns about Coulson, before he gave him “a second chance”, maybe he would like to read the correspondence we ordinary citizens have been sending to his own MPs for many years. Maybe then he would wish he had listened more closely.
If, however, Cameron is incapable of listening to us directly, perhaps he will listen to his own coalition deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. Clegg should be rather more open to the advice of the very people who put him where he is, to keep the tories in check. His party, the Liberal Democrats, are virtually guaranteed to sink without a trace at the next general election, over their repeated failures to reign in Cameron on numerous issues, not least being student tuition fees and the NHS. If they are to stand a chance of turning this around and salvaging their reputation with the electorate, this could be the very issue over which to start doing it.
Today’s performance in the house of commons from shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, shows that the Labour Party are taking the lead on this issue, in ways which, because of their leader’s close proximity to the issue, many back-bench conservative MP’s are incapable of doing. If the LibDem’s wanted to, they could force the resignation of David Cameron, by backing a Labour motion proposing a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister. This would dismantle the coalition and lead to a general election. The only problem then being that Ed Miliband simply isn’t ready to launch a winning Labour Party campaign–raising the very real possibility of another hung parliament, with the conservatives having the highest number of seats, but no overall majority and no hope of forming another coalition with the LibDem’s.
Tomorrow, both James and Rupert Murdoch will give evidence to the commons select committee, in an open session similar to an American congressional hearing. What they say will most likely inform the following day’s debate in the house of commons, which has remained in session for an extra day before the summer recess. If Ed Miliband can play the political blind card of his life, over the coming few days, there is a very real possibility that by the time this scandal reaches just its third week, the revelations of the past 5 years might come to a head with the calling of a general election and the election of a government with a mandate to change the relationship between the media and politicians on an unprecedented scale.
Are we ready, willing and able to fight for the future of this country, in the numbers which were required to force this issue into the public domain in the first place? Undoubtedly. Are the old media interests, who have clung onto power for decades ready to stop at nothing in an attempt to crush that will? Take a look at what they’ve done already. To that, we can only say, bring it on.