The Murdoch and News Corporation scandal wasn’t about Conservative Party sleaze – but it is now
David Cameron’s party has positioned itself as the last defender of a collapsing empire.
Photo: Julian Andrews
It is now just over 20 years since the newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell fell off his yacht near the Canary Islands and drowned. After the obligatory period of mourning, Conservative Central Office launched a brilliant and merciless campaign to link Mr Maxwell to Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party. With a general election looming, very few stones were left unturned. Any doddery Labour-voting peer who had served, however briefly, on the board of a Maxwell company would suffice to demonstrate the depravity of the link between the dead tycoon and the unfortunate Mr Kinnock, whose dealings with Maxwell had in reality been a model of propriety from start to finish.
Happily, Rupert Murdoch remains in excellent health, but some uncomfortable parallels are nevertheless beginning to emerge between the partial collapse of his newspaper empire and the Maxwell demise. Both are politically dangerous, if not lethal. The fall of Maxwell did enormous damage to Labour, helping Mr Kinnock to lose the 1992 general election. The Murdoch scandals are turning into a first-class disaster for David Cameron and his party, while so far leaving Labour intact.
This is extraordinary and needs explanation. When very serious allegations started to be made against News International last summer, it was far from obvious that the Conservatives would be the main victims. The situation looked balanced in their favour. Certainly, David Cameron had made appalling misjudgments in employing the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson and becoming too close to the former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks. But Labour, it appeared, was even more embarrassed. Ed Miliband was almost the last guest to leave Rupert Murdoch’s 2011 summer party in Holland Park, and would probably have sucked up to Murdoch even more than he did had he been encouraged to do so. Tony Blair was godfather to Mr Murdoch’s child and incorporated the US media tycoon as a very senior (though unofficial) member of his government. Gordon Brown’s wife, Sarah, notoriously invited both Brooks and Murdoch’s wife, Wendi Deng, to a cringe-making pyjama party at Chequers.
Yet none of this has stuck – and the cause is not hard to find. For some reason, Mr Cameron and his close circle have emerged as the main public champions of News International. They are bravely – some would say wilfully – refusing to accept that the Murdoch system, as it flourished under Blair, Brown and early Cameron, is finished.
This posture first became apparent in February, when Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, launched an attack on the Leveson Inquiry while making a speech to journalists in the House of Commons. In a gigantic grovel to the Murdoch press, Mr Gove (a former News International employee) asserted that Leveson was in danger of producing a “cure that is worse than the original disease”. Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague (who was paid a fortune for writing a News of the World column when the Conservatives were in opposition), was at it again, with a defence of the media tycoon on the BBC. ...read more