Miliband has Murdoch's empire in his sights

Labour leader calls for News International to be broken up at the Leveson inquiry.

Unlike most of his peers, Ed Miliband came to the Leveson inquiry with little political baggage, allowing him to focus on the future of the media (he described it as a "privilege" to give evidence). The most notable moment came when Miliband elaborated on his earlier call for News International to be broken-up. He argued that the group's sense of "power without responsibility" flowed from its "overweening" dominance of the market, and called for Leveson to recommend a cap of between 20-30 per cent on newspaper market share (News International currently controls 34 per cent). "I think it's good for our democracy to have plurality in the market," he concluded.

The Labour leader's opponents will present this as a cynical attempt to reduce the influence of the Conservative-supporting News International, although it's hard to imagine any of the alternative proprietors being more favourable to Labour. As Miliband told the inquiry, his aim "is not to stifle one particular organisation or another." He added that he also wanted to review the UK's cross-media ownership rules, something that could threaten News Corp's 39.1 per cent BSKyB stake.

Elsewhere, he dealt calmly with questions about his director of communications, Tom Baldwin, whom Lord Ashcroft accused of illegally “blagging” his bank details. He told Robert Jay QC that Baldwin and former Times editor Peter Stothard (Baldwin's old boss) both denied the allegations. In a notable move, Miliband also sought to distance himself from Gordon Brown, telling the inquiry that he raised concerns about Damian McBride's behaviour with him in September 2008, and challenging Brown's absurd claim that he knew of no evidence of Charlie Whelan briefing against his political opponents. He pointedly noted that Whelan left government in 1999 "because he briefed".

Miliband again conceded that he was "too slow to speak out" about phone-hacking, adding, in his defence, that taking on the press was like taking on "an 800lb gorilla". Asked whether he spoke to Rupert Murdoch at News International's 2011 summer party (which predated the Milly Dowler revelations), he said the pair had a "short conversation" about US politics and international affairs. In retrospect, he added, he should have raised the subject of phone-hacking.

On media regulation, Miliband emphasised his support for a free press, rightly noting that phone-hacking was only exposed thanks to "the rigour and dedication of the press". To the undoubted relief of many hacks, he declared his opposition to statutory regulation "in relation to political balance". Miliband added, however, that fear of a "chilling effect" was not an excuse for inaction. Like David Cameron, he is inclinced to support a system of "independent regulation", a compromise between the twin poles of state regulation and self regulation. It looks as if Leveson may get the bipartisan consensus he craves.

Labour Party leader Ed Miliband arrives to give evidence at the Leveson inquiry. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Julia Rampen
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Donald Trump's inauguration marks the start of the progressive fightback

Opponents to Donald Trump and Brexit are reaching across the Atlantic. But can they catch up with the alt-right? 

In the icy lemon sunshine of 20 January 2017, a group of protestors lined London’s Millennium Bridge, drumming. Two scarf-clad organisers held placards that spelt “Open Hearts”. 

Protesting the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th US President might seem like a waste of time when you could spend the day under the covers instead. But the protestors were upbeat. Sophie Dyer, a part-time student and graphic designer I met on the bridge, told me her group were “trying to avoid mentioning his name”. 

When I asked her what had catalysed her interest in political activism, she said: “Everything. 2016.”

One of the trademarks of the times is the way the alt-right learnt from each other, from Donald Trump crowning himself “Mr Brexit”, to France’s Marine Le Pen sipping coffee at Trump Towers. Now, progressives are trying to do the same. 

The protestors were part of the Bridges Not Walls protests. Ten hours before I stepped onto the Millennium Bridge, New Zealand activists had already got started. As the sun rose over Europe, banners unfurled from bridges in Dubai, France, Spain, Sweden and Norway. In the UK, there were also protests in other cities including Edinburgh and Oxford.

The demonstrations are about Trump – the name is a direct rebuke to his pledge to build a wall on the southern border – but they are no less about Brexit, or, as environmental campaigner Annabelle Acton-Boyd put it, “right-wing populist movements”. 

Acton-Boyd said she had come to show solidarity with American friends who opposed Trump.

But she added: “It is about coming together supporting each other geographically, and across different [political and social] movements.” 

In the election post-mortem, one of the questions confronting progressives is whether voters and activists were too focused on their own issues to see the bigger picture. This varies from controversial debates over the role of identity politics, to the simpler fact that thousands of voters in the rustbelt who might have otherwise helped Clinton opted for the Green candidate Jill Stein.

But while Bridges Not Walls paid homage to different causes - LGBTQ rights were represented on one bridge, climate change on an other - each  remained part of the whole. The UK Green Party used the event to launch a “Citizens of the World” campaign aimed at resettling more child refugees. 

Meanwhile, Trump and his European allies are moving fast to redefine normal. Already, media critics are being blocked from presidential press conferences, divisive appointments have been made and the intelligence authorities undermined. 

As US opponents of Trump can learn from those in the UK resisting a hard Brexit, resisting this kind of right-wing populism comes at a cost, whether that is personal infamy a la Gina Miller, or the many hours spent dusting off books on constitutional law. 

The question for transatlantic progressives, though, is whether they are prepared to leave the morning sunshine for the less glamorous elbow grease of opposition – the late night email exchanges, the unpaid blog posts, the ability to compromise - that will be needed to bend the arc of history back towards justice. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.