The Unusual Suspects; Rupert Murdoch, Bernie Ecclestone, the Hindujas, Berlusconi, and Now Lakshmi Mittal: Can These Really Be the Right Friends for a Labour Leader?

By Cohen, Nick | New Statesman (1996), February 25, 2002 | Go to article overview

The Unusual Suspects; Rupert Murdoch, Bernie Ecclestone, the Hindujas, Berlusconi, and Now Lakshmi Mittal: Can These Really Be the Right Friends for a Labour Leader?


Cohen, Nick, New Statesman (1996)


There has been an edgy note in the voice of respectable opinion for a good month now. Men of moderate temperament are struggling to handle the uncomfortable thought that Blairism is bent. You can feel their pain and see the strain.

Introducing a report on Enron's bankrolling of new Labour on the Six O'Clock News, Huw Edwards broke the first rule of journalism. Wasn't this story, "complicated?" he asked the BBC's political correspondent, Mark Mardell. Indeed it was, agreed a head-shaking Mardell from the gloom outside parliament. And this business with Arthur Andersen, continued Edwards, wouldn't you say it was pretty damn "complicated" as well? Right again, Huw, said Mardell. Very, very complicated. Positively labyrinthine.

By the time they had finished implying that the Enron-Andersen affair was so impenetrable that the viewers should prefer turning over to befuddling their tiny minds with the facts, the slot was at an end and Edwards was ready to move to the football.

In the Independent, David Aaronovitch warned that those who investigated corruption were reviving the nihilism of Weimar. If politics is a racket, what comes next? Post-fascist plutocrats in the Berlusconi mould, "people with shining eyes and large bank balances, who speak the language of disillusion with party politics". Aaronovitch attacked the "rank hypocrisy" of newspapers whose editors accepted knighthoods from Thatcher. A leader-writer in the Guardian took up the theme. There was "no smoking gun", he/she cried. The real scandal was that the Murdoch press was "lambasting" the Prime Minister for helping Lakshmi Mittal, a foreigner who paid virtually no tax to the exchequer. The Sun had made "no such protests" when Tony Blair lobbied the Italian government on behalf of Murdoch, a foreigner whose newspapers use the services of the Cayman Islands to dodge corporation tax.

I have lost count of, and patience with, the commentators who have assured us that Britain is not as corrupt as Italy, while displaying no stomach for the fight to keep Britain that way. If they reflected that Berlusconi is now Blair's ally in a common struggle against the rights of European workers, they would perhaps be shamed into understanding that the rotten state of Italy's rigged democracy is not a card that government supporters can flourish.

As for the rest, Aaronovitch and the Guardian are undoubtedly right to suggest that scientists looking for the hypocrisy gene should sample Rupert Murdoch's DNA. Journalists can't be taken seriously unless they are prepared to condemn the deceits of the media and their owners' extortionist power to blackmail government. But I think we already knew that you sell your soul wholesale when you join News International. The awkward question remains: what does it say about the wreck of the British labour movement that the PM will happily work for Murdoch and Mittal? "Smoking guns" may not be on display in these and related cases. Those who demand their production should have the honesty to accept that, at most crimes scenes, only detectives can find them. All we can see clearly is a pattern of offending behaviour.

Murdoch is not just a tax dodger who leaves his duped readers to pick up his bills, he is also the leader of the anti-union vested interest in Britain. He switched to Blair when John Major was on his way out. Blair gave him many favours. Among them was a promise to abandon his public duties and badger the then left-of-centre Italian government to drop its objections to Murdoch breaking into its market. Downing Street first tried to cover up the affair. Then it claimed that Blair was backing a "British" company. When it was pointed out that Murdoch was a patriotic Australian who abandoned his country to become an American, a Downing Street spokesman fought to keep a straight face as he mumbled that Tone was trying to turn Murdoch into a supporter of the European Union.

Bernie Ecclestone was a Tory supporter and donor.

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