Ed Miliband was beaming when I saw him talking to Rupert Murdoch at the media magnate’s summer party at the Orangery, Kensington Palace, just three weeks ago.
Ed Miliband was beaming when I saw him talking to Rupert Murdoch at the media magnate’s summer party at the Orangery, Kensington Palace, just three weeks ago. The Labour leader has since admitted that he did not raise the matter of phone hacking that evening. Of course not! He was trying to charm.
But that is so last month. Now, Miliband is happily playing Pied Piper to the lynch mob against the lord of the evil empire whom the Labour party courted so long and so successfully. Mobs should never be trusted, let alone joined. But David Cameron’s government is rushing to catch up with Ed Miliband, the BBC and the Guardian, who all hate conservatism as much as they hate Murdoch, its strongest voice.
The behaviour of some News of the World journalists and some executives in the phone-hacking scandal is deplorable — unforgivable, as Murdoch himself has said. It will be punished when the police investigations are complete. Let’s hope that better standards for all papers come out of this terrible crisis.
But the levels of hypocrisy and vengefulness in today’s mob are almost beyond belief, particularly at the BBC. The state broadcaster is bound by its charter to be impartial but for the last two weeks it has been in almost hysterical overdrive to destroy Murdoch. One presenter on Today even speculated whether he was ‘the most evil man in the world’.
The case of Gordon Brown is worse. He and Murdoch liked each other and Murdoch gave him long support — far too long, in my view. Brown claimed this week that in 2006 the Sun improperly accessed the medical records of his infant son, Fraser, to reveal that he had cystic fibrosis. In the rush to convict Murdoch, almost every paper splashed the story. David Cameron offered his sympathy.
The Sun has since replied that the information came from another father of a child with cystic fibrosis (who has signed an affidavit to this effect) and they cleared the story with the Browns. Similarly, the Sunday Times has denied Brown’s claim that it employed ‘criminals’ to access his bank account.
The Browns certainly showed no unhappiness with Murdoch or his staff for the next three years and they attended Rebekah Brooks’s wedding in 2009. Brown only became incandescent after the Sun endorsed Cameron before the 2010 election. Andrew Neil, of this parish, claims that Brown then rang Murdoch and said, ‘I will destroy you.’ He is now trying to make good that threat.
Simon Jenkins, now a Guardian columnist, wrote before the current horrors that Murdoch ‘is the best thing that ever happened to the British media and they hate it’. He was right. There are obviously many things wrong with Murdoch’s group, but without his epic victory over the print unions in the 1980s, there would be far fewer papers in Britain today. Murdoch means pluralism.
Who else would have subsidised the huge losses of the Times, an excellent paper, for so long? Who else would have invested hundreds of millions to build BSkyB, to which ten million people now subscribe? Who else could have offered a vibrant alternative to the leftist orthodoxies of the BBC and the Guardian — pro-EU and pro-massive immigration, anti-American, anti-Israeli? Who never sues even his most vicious and libellous critics? Rupert Murdoch is, in these and many other respects, one of a kind.
Beware of what you wish for. If Murdoch’s business is destroyed, the diversity of British media will suffer seriously. Who might gather up the wreckage of the Times? Well, maybe Oleg Deripaska.
William Shawcross is the author of Murdoch: the Making of a Media Empire.