One thing is clear from watching Question Time last night and that is the public is now turning its attention towards the relationship between the Murdoch empire and our top politicians. For decades, as the most powerful press barron in the world, our politicians have been cosying up Murdoch under the pretence that (to paraphrase) its only ‘the Sun wat can win it’. The NOTW scandal has opened the eyes of the public to exactly the kind of dodgy friends our top politicians have been keeping and it isn’t pretty.
Politically, so far, the Tories are getting the worst of the flack given Cameron’s employment of Andy Coulson. On Labour’s part, Ed Milliband managed to spot the passing bandwagon early and decided that the best option was to burn all bridges with the Murdoch empire. People however have long memories and are not prepared to forget the years of Blair/Campbell cosying up to Murdoch. More recently his own (ex-Murdoch) spin doctor was telling Labour MP’s to lay off his former employer and not to link phone-hacking with the BSkyB bid. Only a few weeks ago, Ed Miliband was joining David Cameron in drinking champagne at News International’s summer party. Ed can hike up the moral high ground but his party is far from in the clear.
As Martin Kettle puts it so well in the Guardian, this scandal presents a real opportunity to re-shape the media framework, deal with the vexed issue of media plurality, competition and a weak, toothless, PCC (we do however need to keep some form of self-regulation).
David Cameron has been traditionally good at grasping such issues when they arise and running with them but with this one he has appeared like a fox trapped in headlights; scared and unwilling to make the first move. This presents an excellent opportunity for Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems. Seemingly untainted by any connections to the Murdoch empire; up until last year their party was a virtual irrelevance and neither Murdoch or the party had any reason to pay any interest in each other. Starting from this position they have the ideal opportunity to take the issue of press reform and media plurality and run with it within the government.
For this Nick Clegg needs to be brave and prepared to ruffle a lot of feathers amongst his coalition partners. Played carefully though and this could be Clegg’s moment to shine.