You don't have Murdoch to kick around any more...

Murdoch gets huffy.

Rupert Murdoch insists that the decision to split publishing away from the rest of the News Corp empire has nothing to do with the hacking scandal.
But nonetheless, it is difficult not to be reminded of Richard Nixon’s last press conference when looking at the announcement. The disgraced US president memorably told the press: “you don’t have Nixon to kick around any more”.
And similarly, after a year in which Murdoch has faced a savage backlash from the politicians who spent so long courting him, he appears to be withdrawing from interest in the UK altogether.
Asked by US-based broadcaster Fox News whether he was pulling back from the UK he said: “No, but I would be a lot more reluctant to invest in new things in Britain today than I would be here.”
I’ve always defended Murdoch because of the huge amount he has invested in British journalism. There was something comforting about the fact that hundreds of millions made on films like Avatar were helping prop up the brilliant but massively loss-making journalism of The Times. Not any more.
Announcing the break-up of News Corp last week, he revealed he would not tolerate print losses anywhere: “Each newspaper will be expected to pay its way”.
The published accounts suggest Times Newspapers lost £12m in the year to July 2011, £45m in the year before that and £88m in the year previous to that. But the true figure could be even higher because the figures that reach Companies House provide only a partial account.
It is tempting to conclude that Murdoch subsidised his UK press operations to an extent because of the political clout they gave him, and now that clout has gone forever, he is going to run on them on less sentimental lines.
He will be chairman of both News Corp divisions but only chief executive of the entertainment division, which makes ten times as much money as the publishing side. This means that he must be planning to reduce his hands-on involvement in The Sun, Times, Sunday Times, Wall Street Journal and Australian titles.
Interviewed by Press Gazette seven years ago, Murdoch (then 74) appeared concerned about his legacy. He spoke about his pride at the union-smashing move to Wapping in 1986 which he said was an “absolute turning point for Fleet Street and the whole of the newspaper industry…I’m very proud of it and it will be part of my legacy.”
It now looks like Murdoch’s hands-on launch of the Sunday edition of The Sun in March was his last throw of the dice in the UK newspaper market. It is a remarkable story which began with his acquisition of the 6 million-selling News of the World in 1968 and which may now conclude with the sell-off of the unrivalled newspaper empire he has built up.
Newspapers, and journalism operations full-stop, always seem to do better when they are run by someone with a long-term vision which extends far beyond the immediate bottom line. Hence the success of the likes of Murdoch and Rothermere versus the managed decline at Trinity Mirror and Express Newspapers where titles appear to be seen as short-term cash generators.
If that ethos is now to extend to the NI titles, then Murdoch’s exit from the UK journalistic stage will be a sad day for Fleet Street.

This article first appeared in Press Gazette.

Murdoch, Photograph: Getty Images

Dominic Ponsford is editor of Press Gazette

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

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