Saturday, July 16, 2011


Over Hyped or a 'Revolution'?

Returning from the intense humidity of Hongkong on Thursday, I felt a similar but different intensity in our political life. In a good article today Jonathan Freedland suggests we are in the middle of a 'very British revolution'. This contrasts with Mathew Parris, last Saturday in The Times, that it's all been overdone: newspapers have always paid money to acquire stories and used any number of devious tricks, including spying, to do the same thing. He concluded the fuss was 'hugely overblown'.

Well, I'm not so sure about either analysis. If it is a 'revolution', it's nothing like the Romanian one with which Freedland seeks to compare it. The power structure of UK remains intact and, as Freedland himself fears, despite the present furore, no real change might ensue, as in the case of MP's expenses and the shaming of the banker's. What seems to have been overthrown, rather, is a two decade near hegemony of press influence by one organisation, extending to incestuous social links between the topmost tiers of News International personnel and the British political system.

During the 1980s The Sun became a potent force and in 1992 dared to claim it was The Sun 'wot won' the 1992 election. Its huge readership and desperate, underhand methods made it almost immune from criticism as even MPs feared being 'monstered' by the 'Currant Bun'. Murdoch wielded so much power over Labour, after drawing it into its embrace in 1997, that one of Blair's aides reckoned Rupert was a 'shadow' member of the Cabinet, exercising direct influence over policies relating, especially to the EU and media ownership and control. Thank heaven this last might, just, be on the way to being swept away and even his interests in the US might come under severe attack. But is this a 'revolution'? Not really, it's more like a minor earthquake, an adjustment of tectonic plates.

Has it been 'hugely overblown'? Well, maybe, but there is a huge difference between suspected wrongdoing and being caught in the act. We all knew Murdoch's papers were ruthless in pursuit of a story and suspected laws might be being broken. But the hall mark of power is its ability to deflect, obfuscate and emerge unscathed. Nick Davies in The Guardian had been banging on about NI phone hacking for ages before anyone listened and they only did so once it was revealed the hackers have overstepped the mark by illegally hacking into the phones of ordinary people as opposed to celebrities. For once a shadowy but potent behind the scenes operation has been found out. Coulson will probably do time, just as Aitken and Archer did.

I agree with Freedland that, while everyone is furious now and calling for more heads to roll but we might well be close to the end of it. Murdoch has been humbled, forced to apologise and appear before a select committee against his will (and doesn't he look so vulnerable with his bald pate and black hole of a mouth?). Now that so many senior figures have gone, it could be the scandal will die down. It will all depend, I suspect, on what will happen at the committee hearings next week. Murdoch will be desperate to calm the atmosphere and get back tom making money as well as repairing his channels of influence. But having arrived back in UK in the middle of the scandal, I just hope the entertainment can continue for another few days at least...

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