Rupert Murdoch has emerged virtually unscathed from the phone hacking scandal, which some naive optimists hoped might actually bring his empire down. This much has been clear for some time, but it was made public on 21 December when David Cameron, George Osborne and half of the rest of the cabinet attended a Christmas drinks party at Murdoch’s London flat. The Conservative government was collectively acknowledging Murdoch’s rehabilitation.
Murdoch’s return to power and influence has, of course, been a fact of life for some time. The Murdoch press threw itself behind Cameron in the last general election and since then Murdoch has had eight meetings with government ministers, including two with the chancellor, George Osborne.
Murdoch has graciously forgiven Cameron for the Leveson fiasco and allowed him to kiss his ring. For Cameron this has also made possible a tearful reconciliation with his former riding partner, Rebekah Brooks.
Of course, the Leveson unpleasantness inevitably left a bad taste, with a succession of senior Labour and Tory politicians lying under oath when they serially denied Murdoch’s malign influence on British politics and society (Rupert Who?). But with Brooks’s miraculous acquittal, the tide was turned. Once more a British government is in Murdoch’s debt and he is claiming payment — starting with the emasculation of the BBC. It is only a matter of time before he is allowed to take over all of BSkyB.
It might be a while before the Tories are confident enough to allow him to sponsor an Academy. Moving in on British educational provision is seen as promising huge potential profits, and is one of Murdoch’s unfulfilled ambitions.
There were noticeable absences from the Christmas party, however. Blair was obviously not invited — even Murdoch has standards. But there were no senior Labour people there. At the last such celebration in 2011 the then Labour leader, Ed Miliband, however reluctantly, felt obliged to pay court.
This time the new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was made of sterner stuff. And with Corbyn not attending, none of those on the Labour right, who were actually desperate to prove their loyalty to Murdoch, dared show their many faces. Not even Baron Blunkett, hilariously a former adviser to News International on “social responsibility” (he was paid nearly £50,000 a year for this!), seems to have put in an appearance.
After the party Cameron went on to another do at the Sexy Pig, oops, I mean the Sexy Fish restaurant.
Murdoch’s return to power and influence was always pretty much guaranteed as long as he kept control of the Sun. Put bluntly, mainstream politicians will pay for its support. This remains as true today as it was in the Thatcher and Blair years, even though the paper is a shadow of its former reactionary self.
Today it is a shapeless mishmash, lacking that unifying motif of bile, hatred and resentment that was its defining characteristic under Kelvin Mackenzie.
The best it can manage now are the desperate ramblings of a lightweight like Rod Liddle. His target audience seems to be less the Sun’s actual readership than some imaginary leftie he has invented and is trying to offend. Incidentally, Liddle has the remarkable distinction of being the only current British newspaper columnist to have ever been cautioned by the police for assaulting a pregnant woman!
But while today’s Sun might be a pretty poor newspaper, it can still run sustained campaigns of abuse that terrify British politicians. It did this to Kinnock, it did it to Miliband and it is trying to do it to Corbyn today.
From this point of view, it is worth remembering, when considering the arguments of those within the Labour Party who argue that Corbyn is unelectable, that what they actually want is to replace him with someone acceptable to Rupert Murdoch. Only that way will they be invited to next year’s party.