What does Rupert Murdoch have on the Labour Party?
Tongues wagging at Westminster as Labour leader woos Wapping, orders MPs to go easy on Newscorp
There is an extraordinary gossip piece in Thursday’s News Statesman from veteran Labour political gossip Kevin Maguire. In it, he alleges that Ed Miliband was
‘…granted a cosy chat with the Sun’s editor, Dominic Mohan, and the Wapping dominatrix Rebekah Brooks. My snout in Fortress Wapping suggests that, next time, [Miliband] should remember that the Sun was launched in 1964 – and avoid asking how it covered events in the 1940s and 1950s; he should also avoid asking the childless Brooks how her kids are. I’m told it could have gone better….’
Well haw-haw, oh how we laughed and all that, but this is an extraordinary allegation when added to Slog pieces from mid January demanding to know why Mr Ed wasn’t putting Cameron on the spot at PMQs about his near-familial relationship with the senior Newscorps.
Here we have a supposedly ‘Red’ Labour leader licking the Murdochs all over, having cosy chats over crumpets with a woman who, this time next month, might well be facing criminal charges. A woman who is, no less, married to an Old Etonian chum of the Prime Minister, and known to be keen on clandestine meetings with Dave himself.
At least one Labour MP of my acquaintance thinks the Maguire story is true. What on earth is going on here?
Generally, what it shows – as ever – is that most of our political class are scared to even break wind without first of all checking it out with Uncle Rupert. But there also remains the specific point as to why Ed Miliband (who could’ve had Cameron on toast about Hackgate) chose to ignore the scandal despite having three PMQ sessions when he should have raised it.
The Slog wonders if the answer to this riddle may lie some years in the past, when New Labour and Rupert Murdoch were the best of friends. As far back as March 1998, when things could only get better, there was a deal of controversy surrounding a telephone conversation war-hero Tony Blair had with the then Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi. At the time, Rupert Murdoch was facing fierce political obstructionism about his bid to buy a leading Italian TV network.
Downing Street was forced to deny suggestions that Mr Blair had attempted to intervene on Mr Murdoch’s behalf, and although Murdoch’s deal didn’t go through, many Labour backbenchers – and some higher up, including the late Foreign Secretary Robin Cook – waxed loquacious on just how grateful Prime Minister Blair was to the World’s Greatest Australo-Chinese American.
Shortly afterwards, top Blair adviser Tim Allen left to take a job with Mr Murdoch. I’d imagine that by now, regular Sloggers will be detecting parallels with 2011 life under the Coalition; but even if you’re not, what happened next is very interesting indeed.
Allen was a close colleague of the then Trade Secretary Peter Mandelson who – before his resignation over the “cash for homes” row – was set to rule on Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to buy Manchester United. Blimey: another parallel.
Then as now, the MMC was very keen to block the Manchester United deal as a blatant conflict of interest. (Murdoch is overwhelmingly the largest sponsor of soccer’s Premier League, in which context United remain the most successful club of all time). And lest we forget, Peter – by then Lord – Mandelson eventually sold his serialised memoirs to Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp.
But then the cash-for-homes cloud descended upon poor dear Peter, and he was forced to resign. The general feeling remains among those in the know, however, that Mandelson would’ve approved the deal.
“Up until Autumn 2009 or thereabouts, Mandy would’ve done anything for Murdoch” says a now quietly retired Mandarin, “he was full of it, as Peter always is when he finds himself close to naked power….intimate dinners aboard yachts with Russian oligarchs and media barons. He’s a terrible old queen for all that kind of thing.”
Tony Blair, by contrast, directly ordered Mandy’s replacement (taxi driver Stephen Byers) to scotch the bid.
It seems that, allegedly, Murdoch was told by Allen what had happened. The old boy suddenly realised that Blair was a more slippery character than he’d imagined; Murdoch continued to support Labour (the Tories being in disarray) but made a large mental note to keep an eye on New Labour.
I’m led to understand that, at some time during 2005, this may have turned into keeping an ear on New Labour.
Rupert Murdoch really doesn’t care a fig who’s in power in the UK, just so long as the Party concerned owes him a favour. He behaves in a similar manner whether in the US, Australia or China. And equally – if the occcasion requires it – he will observe the necessary cultural formalities to get the influence he craves…be that adopting US citizenship, or marrying Chinese citizens.
But in doing all this, Murdoch’s instinct is to store useful, dangerous and damning information.
In recent months, we have seen how his Newscorp empire quietly bankrolls, persuades, influences and hides. It is no exaggeration to say that, on Day 45 of Hackgate, many people in high places are asking just what ‘nuclear’ defence option Rupert Murdoch has at his disposal in order to protect himself both personally and corporately.
There is a sense in the air that only such an option would fully explain why Opposition leaders continue to court potential criminals, major police forces cover up evidence, and governments promote highly-placed Newscorp executives to positions of political power.
Such rumours were hardened by another sensational extract from Maguire’s New Statesmen piece this week. To quote it word for word, he talks of a
‘….memo dictated by Labour’s strategy chief, Tom Baldwin, instructing Labour MPs to go easy on News International – to speak only in a personal capacity (if at all) about the News of the World’s telephone eavesdropping and to avoid making any link between Inspector Knacker’s investigation and Uncle Rupe’s £8bn BSkyB bid….’
Tom Baldwin is a former Times journalist. The Times is a Murdoch-owned newspaper. Miliband appointed Baldwin last December. In the months prior to that, Baldwin wrote a series of very uncomplimentary articles about the Labour leader. Yet Ed made him head of Labour’s media strategy. Well, that makes sense then. (We’ll get back to Tom in due course: stay tuned)
Newscorp has unwillingly revealed to the British people its preferred method of using surveillance to gain information. The question we face this Saturday 26th February 2011 is whether that approach has been put to even more dastardly use than we as yet realise.