Ed Miliband has opportunistically seized upon David Cameron’s closeness with the shamed Murdoch empire. Considering the Blair government’s own flirtation with News International this is cant and hypocrisy of the first order, writes Christopher Wheeler.
Within the last few weeks the British newspaper industry, and more specifically News International, has been found to be a hotbed of immorality and alleged illegality. The Labour Party and their leader Ed Miliband have been seen – by the media and the general public alike – to have been making all the running over the issue of phone hacking. Labour have tried to claim that the scandal shows that Prime Minister David Cameron lacks judgement due to his hiring of an ex-tabloid editor who – it is claimed – was intimately involved in the scandal.
They also say that it shows the Coalition government – and more specifically the Conservative Party – are too close to the owners of News International, namely the Murdochs. However, the Labour Party, no matter how hard they try, cannot escape the past when they deliberately and systematically turned a blind eye to accusations of impropriety at News International for narrow political reasons.
The whole process of the Labour Party becoming intimate with the Murdoch Empire started in the early- to mid-1990s when Tony Blair actively courted the support of Rupert Murdoch in order to garner the support of the Sun newspaper. This attempt to court the support of the Murdochs actually led the then-leader of the opposition to fly around the world in order to have an audience with the media mogul which led to him missing the Durham Miner’s Gala Dinner – always a major occasion that Labour leaders attended. The Labour Party did, in 1997, get the support of the Sun and News International and maintained their support for well over a decade.
By 2003 however, allegations of impropriety in the news and media industry were surfacing. A select committee hearing in that year of members of News International made a tacit admission of the use of some illegal practices.
Nevertheless nothing was done about these allegations because at the time the Labour Party was still exceptionally close to the Murdoch Empire and were without doubt unwilling to do anything that might jeopardise the support of his newspapers. Fresh impetus was given to the allegations of wrongdoing in the newspaper industry in 2006 when the information commissioner in a report highlighted the widespread use of at the very least questionable practices. Again, the Labour Party did nothing because they still enjoyed the support of News International. Even after the conviction of an employee of the News of the World for phone-hacking Labour still refused to act or even speak out against the activities of the newspaper industry.
When Labour lost the support of News International, and more specifically the Sun in 2009, they still refused to take action about phone-hacking or any of the other allegations that were emerging about the Murdoch Empire. Therefore, by 2011, the Labour Party had known for nearly a decade about the improprieties of the newspaper business. For most of that period they had been in government and had the ability to do something about it but preferred to keep the Murdochs onside.
Indeed up until a few weeks ago the Labour Party were still in close contact with News International with Ed Milliband even going to their summer party at which he did not bring up the phone-hacking allegations. Instead he paid homage in his own craven way to the power of the Murdochs.
Nevertheless, when the phone-hacking allegations became front-page news, the Labour Party were straight on the bandwagon with Milliband leading the charge. This, to any observer is obviously and unmistakably opportunism and hypocrisy of the first order because of the ex-Labour government’s simultaneous knowing of the allegations while prostrating themselves in front of News International.