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.

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Labour is launching a stealthy Scottish comeback - thanks to Jeremy Corbyn and the Daily Mail

The Scottish Labour strategy is paying off - and hard evidence that it works may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017

When I suggested to a senior Scottish Labour figure earlier this year that the party was a car crash, he rejected my assertion.

“We’re past that,” he said gloomily. “Now we’re the burnt-out wreck in a field that no-one even notices anymore.”

And yet, just as the election campaign has seen Jeremy Corbyn transformed from an outdated jalopy into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang magically soaring in the polls, Scottish Labour is beginning to look roadworthy again.

And it’s all down to two apparently contradictory forces – Corbyn and The Daily Mail.

Kezia Dugdale’s decision to hire Alan Roden, then the Scottish Daily Mail’s political editor, as her spin doctor in chief last summer was said to have lost her some party members. It may win her some new members of parliament just nine months later.

Roden’s undoubted nose for a story and nous in driving the news agenda, learned in his years at the Mail, has seen Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly forced to defend her government record on health and education in recent weeks, even though her Holyrood administration is not up for election next month.

On ITV’s leaders debate she confessed that, despite 10 years in power, the Scottish education system is in need of some attention. And a few days later she was taken to task during a BBC debate involving the Scottish leaders by a nurse who told her she had to visit a food bank to get by. The subsequent SNP attempt to smear that nurse was a pathetic mis-step by the party that suggested their media operation had gone awry.

It’s not the Tories putting Sturgeon on the defence. They, like the SNP, are happy to contend the general election on constitutional issues in the hope of corralling the unionist vote or even just the votes of those that don’t yet want a second independence referendum. It is Labour who are spotting the opportunities and maximising them.

However, that would not be enough alone. For although folk like Dugdale as a person – as evidenced in Lord Ashcroft’s latest polling - she lacks the policy chops to build on that. Witness her dopey proposal ahead of the last Holyrood election to raise income tax.

Dugdale may be a self-confessed Blairite but what’s powering Scottish Labour just now is Jeremy Corbyn’s more left-wing policy platform.

For as Brexit has dropped down the agenda at this election, and bread and butter stuff like health and education has moved centre stage, Scots are seeing that for all the SNP’s left wing rhetoric, after 10 years in power in Holyrood, there’s not a lot of progressive policy to show for it.

Corbyn’s manifesto, even though huge chunks of it won’t apply in Scotland, is progressive. The evidence is anecdotal at the moment, but it seems some Scots voters find it more attractive than the timid managerialism of the SNP. This is particularly the case with another independence referendum looking very unlikely before the 2020s, on either the nationalists' or the Conservatives' timetable.

Evidence that the Scottish Labour strategy has worked may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017. The polls, albeit with small sample sizes so best approached with caution, have Ian Murray streets ahead in the battle to defend Edinburgh South. There’s a lot of optimism in East Lothian where Labour won the council earlier in May and MSP Iain Gray increased his majority at the Scottish election last year. Labour have chosen their local candidate well in local teacher Martin Whitfield, and if the unionist vote swings behind him he could overhaul sitting MP George Kerevan’s 7,000 majority. (As we learned in 2015, apparently safe majorities mean nothing in the face of larger electoral forces). In East Renfrewshire, Labour's Blair McDougall, the man who led Better Together in 2014, can out-unionist the Tory candidate.

But, while in April, it was suggested that these three seats would be the sole focus of the Scottish Labour campaign, that attitude has changed after the local elections. Labour lost Glasgow but did not implode. In chunks of their former west of Scotland heartlands there was signs of life.

Mhairi Black’s a media darling, but her reputation as a local MP rather than a local celebrity is not great. Labour would love to unseat her, in what would be a huge upset, or perhaps more realistically go after Gavin Newlands in the neighbouring Paisley seat.

They are also sniffing Glasgow East. With Natalie McGarry’s stint as MP ending in tears – a police investigation, voting in her wedding dress and fainting in the chamber sums up her two years in Westminster – Labour ought to be in with a chance in the deprived neighbourhoods of Glasgow’s east end.

Labour in Scotland doesn’t feel like such a wreck anymore. Alan Roden’s Daily Mail-honed media nous has grabbed attention. Corbyn’s progressive policies have put fuel in the tank.

After polling day, the party will be able to fit all its Scottish MPs comfortably in a small hatchback, compared to the double decker bus necessary just a few years back.

But this general election could give the party the necessary shove to get on to the long road back.

James Millar is a political journalist and founder of the Political Yeti's Politics Podcast. He is co-author of The Gender Agenda, which will be published July 21 by Jessica Kingsley Publishing.

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