July 13th. Unlucky for some. Unlucky for Rupert Murdoch and the News Corporation mafia in particular. Last week there was catharsis as Britain’s shabby political establishment suddenly realised that the Murdoch empire no longer had them by the short and curlies. Today the political, tectonic plates shift as Labour’s relatively new and young leader, Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister for the day. He does so because it is he and the Labour Party who decided to table a motion calling on Rupert Murdoch to withdraw his £8 billion bid for the majority shareholding in BSkyB. The real Prime Minister, David Cameron, opening and shutting his mouth like a beached goldfish, has had to meekly follow Miliband’s lead – as of course does the ineffectual and increasingly irrelevant Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.
On Sunday, Rupert Murdoch, who is not a British citizen, who pays no tax here and who presumably has no loyalty to this country at all, closed down a 168 years old British institution, the News of the World newspaper. In doing so he sacked 200 odd people who for the most part had absolutely nothing to do with the phone hacking contagion that is now gripping what used to be called Fleet Street – before Murdoch of course destroyed that. He did so, he though, to pave the way for his cherished BSkyB bid, and to keep in place his firewall against the contagion hitting his son, Rebekah Wade, also his London hatchet woman.
But now he is not going to get his hands on it. And not because of some technical smokescreen, erected for officialdom to trot out by the politicians. But because Ed Miliband has taken the lead. Miliband has come of age on the day the Murdoch Empire in Britain at least, began to die.
I came of age in a different way on the picket lines outside Murdoch’s East London print works in 1985. The ‘Dirty Digger’ as he was know to one and all then, had used anti union laws designed for him by Margaret Thatcher’s Government to fire over 5000 printers, compositors and multudinous other crafts people overnight. He then moved his printing operations from Fleet Street to a fortress structure in Wapping, East London. He took with him scab labour, and he broke the unions. There can be no pretence now that some of the print unions were resistant to change, and were part and parcel of the Spanish practices rife from management down to the ‘black hole’ of Bouverie Street, the old hot metal machine room of the News of the World. But back then, as a young student, I had come to the conclusion that this was a much bigger battle than what was being played out on the streets, as mounted police charged pickets on horse back. There was a megalomania to Murdoch and his minions. They didn’t behave in ways familiar to the rest of us.
And as the years went by his power grew, as successive Government’s fell in with what he wanted and changes the laws of the land in order for him to have it. The Murdoch ‘firm’, stretched their tentacles into the very fabric of Britain’s patchwork quilt of power structures. Everyone wanted to be their friend, or at least not be their enemy. Tony Blair and his side kick, Alastair Campbell flew to Australia, kissed Murdoch’s ass, and then trashed Labour’s long term policy of restricting crosss media ownership. Gordon Brown went to Rebekah Brooks’ wedding, even as he and his family were being turned over by the Murdoch mafia. In fairness to Brown, he probably acted more in fear.
But as Ed Miliband prepares to make his Prime Ministerial speech this afternoon, speaking for a people who are utterly disgusted at the antics of the Murdoch Mafia, he could do no better and pause to ask how he can begin to re-build confidence in Britain’s shattered institutions. Parliament, the police, the media, a whole edifice caught up in the News Corporation spider web in some way or other, perhaps saved just in time, before an altogether unpleasant oligarchy had begun to make its final assault.