Who knows where the time goes? It's not as though anything much has been happening in the world of late. The government's ratings have plummeted in opinion polls - not least because they produced a ridiculous budget that made no sense either politically or economically. The economy is officially back in recession, if not depression. Aren't we all?
This week's headlines have all concerned the Murdoch empire and its relationship with the government. I've been pretty much glued to the televised proceedings of the Leveson Enquiry, and its examination of James Murdoch (Tuesday) and Rupert Murdoch (Wednesday and Thursday). What a pair of bastards. Finally banged to rights! Along with the ridiculous 'Culture Secretary', and his 'Special Adviser'. Stupid Hunt. Jeremy! As Jeremy Hardy said on The News Quiz this evening - Jeremies are invariably knobends.
This morning the wonderful and intrepid Nick Davies had a story on the front page of the Guardian:
Will Rupert Murdoch's reputation survive Leveson's verdict?
Man who made millions out of paying people to ask difficult questions finally faced questioners he could not cope with
Rupert Murdoch is in trouble. In two days as a witness at the Leveson inquiry he has blocked and blasted, smeared and smiled, and, at the end of it, this most powerful of men still has his ankle caught in the snare of scandal. He is vulnerable.
This is a man who is used to getting his way. He is not used to being confronted by people who have the power, the skill and the simple effrontery to challenge him – and to keep on challenging him. On Wednesday morning, he walked in with all the protection that his advisers could give him in the previous days of detailed briefings and endless rehearsals. By Thursday morning, there were times when he had lost the script, lost the plot and he simply sat there, with nobody to help him and no way out.Excellent. Nick finishes his article, which should be read in full, with the following:
The great underlying question – whose answer will settle finally the reputation of Rupert Murdoch and perhaps the future of his business – is whether those denials are to be believed. It is Lord Justice Leveson and not Murdoch who will deliver the verdict. Even the head of News Corporation sometimes must have to stand naked.I love Nick's allusion to Bob Dylan's "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)", and its relevance to this entire sleazy tale of Murdochs, Camerons, Tories, Blairs, New Labour, and assorted hangers-on:
While preachers preach of evil fatesThe wonderful Steve Bell was also thinking 'Emperor's New Clothes' with his cartoon in the Guardian today:
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked.
Take another look at the words of Dylan - which are as relevant, perceptive and evocative today as they were nearly 50 years ago when they were first written:
Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying
As some warn victory, some downfall
Private reasons great or small
Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
To make all that should be killed to crawl
While others say don’t hate nothing at all
Disillusioned words like bullets barkAbsolutely nothing is sacred to the Murdochs and their businesses. The collaboration between Jeremy Hunt and his team and the Murdochs and their team in the BSkyB takeover affair stinks to high heaven, and it's only thanks to Nick Davies and the Guardian that the shit hit the fan and the deal didn't go through. Which is partly where we are today. The other part, of course, is the telephone hacking, the hasty closure of the News of the Screws, the resignations of corrupt coppers, and so on. Big Daddy Rupe has now gone nuclear and started lashing out at everything and everyone - claiming that yes indeed there was a cover-up over the phone hacking, but they also covered it up from me and my naive dipstick twat of a son.Or words to that effect.
As human gods aim for their mark
Make everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much is really sacred
The question is - are we going to be able to prove that Cameron was also actively colluding with the Murdochs at their various parties and meetings? And - is this the deal that was struck with Murdoch in order to get him to switch the support of his papers to the Tories at the last election? What IS bleeding obvious is that Cameron had no problem with News Corp getting full control of BSkyB - by whatever means necessary. And it doesn't take a genius to know that Rupe (and his newspapers and TV channels) would have felt very well disposed towards Cameron and his government if that had occured. As Rupe said to Leveson - everyone scratches everyone else's back. At least that's what they do on Planet Murdoch. But please don't call it bribery!
Then again, as Leveson said to Merdeoch - who says he always behaves ethically (har har) - surely it's the head of any organisation (such as News International) who sets the ethos and the ethics of that organisation? And the reason the Screws was shut down was because it behaved completely and utterly without regard to ethics.
What we all need to ask ourselves is to what degree WE would have been passive bystanders if this outrageous BSkyB takeover had been driven through?
You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks they really found you
A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit
To satisfy, insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not forget
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to
Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to
For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Cultivate their flowers to be
Nothing more than something they invest in
While some on principles baptizedAnd by the way - take a look at these other reports on the Murdochs in the Guardian:
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God bless him
While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in
But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him
Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony
While them that defend what they cannot seeEd Miliband, incidentally, has had a good week, and Polly Toybee, inevitably, has written superbly this week:
With a killer’s pride, security
It blows the minds most bitterly
For them that think death’s honesty
Won’t fall upon them naturally
Life sometimes must get lonely
Murdoch and the Cameron entourage: a shameful tale laid out for all to see
If you think this is a navel-gazing media story, here's a reminder of what the Tories were about to unleash on the country
Could this scandal bring down the government? That's not entirely fanciful. But even if not, their every step will be hobbled through to the next election, stifling any high-flown protestations of political virtue. Bang to rights, in Andy Coulson, David Cameron imported into the heart of his operation an agent still in the pay of a powerful political and commercial manipulator. The cascade of revelations of the intimacy between the Cameron entourage and the Murdoch empire saps the government's authority. That's the "shadow of sleaze".
Cover-ups unravelling is what sees heads rolling. The picture emerges of a party deciding long before coming to power to gift Rupert Murdoch a media and cultural dominance beyond anything seen yet. So much is known already: Cameron made a hasty speech threatening Ofcom with the chop. Jeremy Hunt rejected Ofcom's advice to refer the BSkyB bid to the Competition Commission. Cameron was completing what Margaret Thatcher began – and all for what? Fickle support from Murdoch's press.
None of this is news to our readers – but the Leveson inquiry evidence so forensically laid out by Robert Jay QC sets out the shameful tale for all to see. Murdoch's replies will enter the annals of amnesia and economy with the truth: "I've never asked a prime minister for anything in my life." Of course not. He just breathed on them.
Is there anything so exceptional about Rupert Murdoch? He's canny and fly, but probably no more so than many sharp-witted businessmen who spot their chance in a flabby market. All he has done is exactly what Adam Smith (the real one) famously said every businessman does given half a chance – corner markets and conspire against the consumer. The success of his business was built on gaining the edge by evading regulators and avoiding taxes, as all companies will unless stopped. So let's not obsess over his character.
If you think this is a navel-gazing media story, here's a reminder of what Hunt was about to unleash on the country, with Cameron and George Osborne's approval. If Murdoch were allowed to own all BSkyB, within a year or two he would package all his newspapers on subscription or online together with his movie and sports channels in offers consumers could hardly refuse, at loss-leading prices. Other news providers, including this one, would be driven out, or reduced to a husk. His would be the commanding news voice. Except for the BBC – which his media have attacked relentlessly for years.
Jeremy Hunt was within days of giving Murdoch everything, because the government wished it. A token gesture would have put Sky News behind Chinese walls, but on all previous precedent, soon his newspapers, print, online and TV would have merged into a single newsroom. That would require repeal of the law imposing impartiality on broadcasters. But already Murdoch's friends were softening up opinion against old-fashioned, dull TV news, unsuited to the rowdy, opinionated internet era: Fox News would soon be here. If the arrival of Murdoch's kick-arse Sun was a shock, we'd look back on it as an age of innocence compared with what Fox would do – look what it's done to US politics.
Cameron has said it is his ambition to finish Margaret Thatcher's work. As she privatised nationalised industries, so he would marketise the public sector, with his NHS commercialisation and his promise to put all public services out to tender. The dismantling or shrivelling of the BBC would soon have followed. If Nick Davies had not exposed the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone in the nick of time, all would have been lost – an odd way for the BBC to be reprieved.
The 81-year-old under scrutiny this week rambled a bit and remembered nothing to his own detriment. He was an unsatisfying villain, as most are. But the villainy here is not about one man. He stands as an Adam Smith lesson in the primacy of competition law and what happens when politicians let the free market rip in order to do political favours.