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.

Photo: Getty Images
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Stella Creasy targeted for deselection

Organisers on the left believe the Walthamstow MP is the ideal target for political, personal and geographical reasons.

Stella Creasy, the high-profile MP for Walthamstow and defeated deputy Labour leadership candidate, is the first serious target of an attempt to deselect a sitting Labour MP, the New Statesman has learnt.

Creasy, who is on the right of the party, is believed to be particularly vulnerable to an attempt to replace her with an MP closer to the Labour party’s left. Her constituency, and the surrounding borough of Waltham Forest, as well as the neighbouring borough of Leyton and Wanstead, has a large number both of new members, inspired either to join or return to Labour by Jeremy Corbyn, plus a strong existing network of leftwing groupings and minor parties.

An anti-bombing demonstration outside of Creasy’s constituency offices in Walthamstow – the MP is one of around 80 members of Parliament who have yet to decide how to vote on today’s motion on airstrikes in Syria – is the latest in a series of clashes between supporters of Creasy and a series of organized leftwing campaigns.

Allies of Creasy were perturbed when Momentum, the grassroots body that represents the continuation of Corbyn’s leadership campaign, held a rally in her constituency the night of the Autumn Statement, without inviting the MP. They point out that Momentum is supposedly an outward-facing campaign supporting Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party towards the 2020 general election and the forthcoming local and European elections. Labour holds 27 out of 27 council seats in Creasy’s constituency, while Creasy herself has a majority of 23,195 votes.

“If you look at the seat, there is nothing to win here,” said one Labour member, who believes that Momentum and other groups are planning to depose Creasy. Momentum has denied any plot to remove Creasy as the MP.

However, Creasy has come under pressure from within her local party in recent weeks over the coming vote on bombing Syria. Asim Mahmood, a Labour councilor in Creasy’s constituency, has called for any MP who votes for bombing to face a trigger ballot and reselection. Creasy hit back at Mahmood on Facebook, saying that while she remained uncertain of how to vote: “the one thing I will not do is be bullied by a sitting Walthamstow Labour councilor with the threat of deselection if I don’t do what he wants”.

Local members believe that Mahmood may be acting as the stalking horse for his sister, the current mayor of Waltham Forest, Saima Mahmud, who may be a candidate in the event of a trigger ballot against Creasy. Another possible candidate in a selection battle is Steven Saxby, a local vicar. Unite, the recognized trade union of the Anglican Communion, is a power player in internal Labour politics.

Although Creasy has kept her own counsel about the direction of the party under Corbyn, she is believed to be more vulnerable to deselection than some of the leader’s vocal critics, as her personal style has led to her being isolated in her constituency party. Creasy is believed to be no longer on speaking terms with Chris Robbins, the leader of the council, also from the right of the party.

Others fear that the moves are an attempt by Creasy’s local opponents to prepare the ground for a challenge to Creasy should the seat be redrawn following boundary changes. The mood in the local party is increasingly febrile.  The chair of the parliamentary Labour party, John Cryer, whose Leyton and Wanstead seat is next to Creasy’s constituency, is said to fear that a fundraiser featuring the shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, will take an acrimonious turn. Cryer was one of just four shadow cabinet ministers to speak against airstrikes in Syria.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.