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Aye, Murdoched.

April 25, 2012

You would be forgiven for thinking the last twenty-four hours have been a political spoof of Taggart, in which a grumpy Alex Salmond wanders from crime scene to crime scene, discovering bodies of Politicians and Special Advisors and exclaims “There’s been another Murdoch”.

The Government PR machine in in full defensive mode. It is, perhaps, not the best idea, when trying to convince people that you have behaved with utter scrupulousness, to make a statement which contains a big whopper. And Jeremy Hunt did just that. Unfortunately, none of the media seem to be challenging this line and it is increasingly repeated by every hapless MP wheeled out to defend the beleaguered Secretary of State.

This is the lie: that Jeremy Hunt has gone above and beyond the call of duty by seeking advice from OFT/Ofcom at every step of the way, publishing all this advice and following it at every juncture.

He did not. And if a thing is worth saying, it is worth saying twice. He did not.

First, he only published the advice under pressure the first time the objectivity of the Government was called into question with relation to the BSkyB deal. Namely, when Cameron was revealed to have had a series of shady meetings with Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks.

Second, and most vital, Jeremy Hunt only followed the OFT/Ofcom advice when it was helpful to the bid. The one time Ofcom “caused trouble” by advising him to refer the bid to the Competition Commission (which, as an ex-OFT competition expert, I can tell you was a no-brainer), Jeremy Hunt ignored Ofcom. He initially said he was minded to refer, then delayed his decision, sought Undertakings in Lieu, which he accepted and changed his position.

The fact that it now transpires this change of heart was coordinated behind the scenes with the interested party is highly improper and makes his resignation imperative.

It is also easy to get lost in the minutiae of the emails and text messages submitted to the Leveson Inquiry – who said what to whom and with whose authorisation – and miss what James Murdoch’s said in his actual testimony. Which is clear as day. When asked why he was so hostile to the deal being referred to the Competition Commission, James Murdoch replied: “It’s incredibly inefficient for us, for the company, to be waiting on what appeared to be an indefinite process, actually, with uncertain outcomes“.

I cannot find any rational interpretation of that statement, other than “we wanted the process to stay within the gift of Jeremy Hunt, because we were assured of the result and its timing”. And they were about to get their wish, when the phone hacking scandal exploded.

There is also a concerted move to take this revelation outside its context. Its context is this: James Murdoch being friends with Osborne; Rebekah Brooks being friends with Cameron; Cameron appointing the highly questionable Andy Coulson as the Downing Street PR supremo; Rupert Murdoch being the first person to visit the newly elected PM via the Downing Street back door; Cameron announcing a scaling down of Ofcom and a cut to the BBC budget; Cameron relieving Vince Cable of responsibility the moment he made negative noises about the bid and appointing in his place a self-described “cheerleader” for the Murdochs; Cameron having dinner with Murdoch and Brooks two days later and discussing the bid (probably after riding a horse loaned to her by police chiefs now resigned in disgrace); Lobbygate; Cash for Dinners.

This is the latest in a nexus of revelations which have shown this Government, having  promised to “clean up politics”, to have a improperly close and blatant tit-for-tat relationship with the corporate interests which put them in power.

I must sign off now. Murdoch Senior is about to give evidence and, the way this thing is going, he probably has pictures of Osborne, in a wig and cocktail dress, zipping up a red sports-bag.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. April 25, 2012 8:46 am

    Thank you very much for that, I enjoyed every word of it. It’s nice to know that someone can speak the truth.

  2. Rich Johnson permalink
    April 25, 2012 8:51 am

    One tangential thing of interest yesterday was Murdochinho’s use of “political.” It seemed to mean that opposition to the BskyB takeover was “political.” Ushering it through with a sympathetic minister: not “political.”

    • Andrew D permalink
      April 25, 2012 8:06 pm

      Rich – of course. This is part and parcel of the two underlying givens of Right Wing politics, namely

      1) The argument from nature = Right Wing politics are ‘natural’, ‘obvious’, and so are not really politics, only human nature. By definition, therefore, politics is an aberration from the norm, almost a perversion. You can see this in the way one can stand as a Conservative and your employer will regard that as run of the mill, but if you seek election as a Socialist/Labour candidate, well, that’s politics. The same would be true in the pulpit – a Tory Vicar, so what? A Labour Vicar = meddling in politics and ignoring the spiritual.Stick to your remit (ring any bells in Government reaction to criticisms from Archbishop Rowan?

      2) The double double standard = WE are allowed double standars; you are NOT.

  3. pointypix permalink
    April 25, 2012 9:00 am

    I’m so glad I stumbled across your blog as you put into words so eloquently what everyone in this the UK needs to know about the corruption in politics and how they’re all just puppets for the big are what came up when I googled who is owed all the debt the world has and I thank you for making sense of it for me.

  4. andrew permalink
    April 25, 2012 10:27 am

    “refer the bid to the Competition Commission (which, as an ex-OFT competition expert, I can tell you was a no-brainer)” Can you expand on that? I have heard advice from competition experts at LSE seminars that suggested that under UK and EU law there really wasn’t a monopoly or a plurality case – and that the referral to the CC was just a political act “to kick the case into the long grass” and avoid appearing to be seeing to endorse the “evil” Murdoch. Why do you think it was a valid CC issue?

    • April 25, 2012 10:43 am

      Because there is a history of complaints and investigations and a magnitude which makes the CC absolutely the natural forum to assess what was an incredibly complex takeover. The legal threshold for referral is very low for a good reason.

      • andrew permalink
        April 25, 2012 12:26 pm

        Well not sure I agree. The referral to the CC couldn’t be on “significant lessening of competition” – the OFT’s option; the numbers don’t stack up. It could be on the Secretary of State’s right to refer a case of significant public interest – it surely meets that criteria. But what could the CC do apart from filibuster? The proposed buyout wouldn’t change plurality – its already assumed that NI’s 39% gives them control. Nor would it challenge the market distortion boundaries. NB in each case the relevant law is EU directives so plenty of scope for successful appeals.
        Nope the “complaints and investigations” are about being a “fit and proper” owner – that’s OFCOM’s remit not the CC’s. Disqualification would probably require a criminal conviction of a Murdoch. Possible.

      • April 25, 2012 12:36 pm

        The test is whether it “can lead to a significant lessening of competition” which is an extremely low threshold. But I suspect you know that. I’m sure you also know that a referral becomes even more important when a party is near a dominant position already as even marginal changes can have a detrimental effect. In any case, the point is that Ofcom advised referral and he ultimately did not refer.

  5. April 25, 2012 10:41 am

    Clear, truthful, funny; you did it again 🙂

  6. April 25, 2012 11:30 am

    Looks like Jim Naughtie was right after all.
    Big love Alex, excellent post as always. x

  7. scfthomson permalink
    April 25, 2012 1:05 pm

    My biggest concern is that all this reveals what we all already suspected was going on behind the scenes…but it’s taken this massive circus to bring it out. What’s happening elsewhere, with less drama and attention? In business, for instance – or health, or education, or transport? Presumably the same rules, vested interests and back slapping all apply there, too – all lacking the media hook that’s brought this massive inquiry about.

    • April 25, 2012 1:17 pm


    • May 1, 2012 11:07 am

      ..and in local government too – now that there are many more private sector contracts to be awarded by people with no experience, little probity and not the time or courage to look too hard at the tenderers and who their pals may be. If the PM can’t be called to account for a clear conflict of interest what hope is there for transparency and due process?

  8. April 25, 2012 2:03 pm

    Very succinctly put.

  9. keeshond permalink
    April 25, 2012 2:17 pm

    “And they were about to get their wish, when the phone hacking scandal exploded.” This is key to the story and how the bid unraveled, Alex. On BBC TV News last night, chief political correspondent Nick Robinson bizarrely used the fact the bid never succeeded in mitigation of Hunt’s position. The truth is that we were saved from Murdoch owning the lion’s share of both broadcast as well as print media in the UK by the slenderest of threads.

    • April 25, 2012 2:23 pm

      And the delusion continued in the House of Commons this afternoon, when Hunt claimed that it was his asking for Undertakings that precipitated the collapse of the bid.

  10. April 25, 2012 2:24 pm

    Well written piece, Alex. Right on the money

  11. keeshond permalink
    April 25, 2012 2:54 pm

    Presumably the Undertakings in Lieu by which Murdoch would be willing to spin off loss making Sky News. Big deal!

  12. April 25, 2012 4:20 pm

    Could we not introduce a political award gala and award them with Oinkers, or would the smelting costs be too great even in Britannia metal?

    A post clear, relevant and concise as usual Alex.

    P.S. would like an update on your insight on the current Greek situation. It seems to be off the media radar at present.

  13. Phil permalink
    April 25, 2012 7:48 pm

    Another written blog, yeah yesterday they seemed to forget that Mr Hunt had actually said they could have Sky, only if they off loaded Sky News. They, Murdochs, were the ones who pulled out of the deal because of the uproar after the Milly Dowler text message scandal.

  14. Jonault permalink
    April 28, 2012 1:35 pm

    Jeremy Hunt! 80% of Londoners just don’t get it.

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