Tories would create "Berlusconi's Britain"

"Big bang" media revolution would be dangerous, warns NUJ head

The shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt this week promised a "big bang" media revolution on the same scale as the 1986 deregulation of the City, as the Tories fleshed out their media policy.

Now the party's proposed bonfire of local media regulations has come under assault from the president of the National Union of Journalists, James Doherty, who warned that the changes would lead to "Berlusconi's Britain".

Speaking at the NUJ's annual delegate meeting, Doherty said: "We will not allow our press to be undermined by the threats of political expediency.

"We will not sleepwalk towards a Tory version of Berlusconi's Britain, where the interests of the political elite are backed by the power of near-monopolised media ownership."

The Tory plans would involve the abolition of coss-media ownership rules, which prevent local groups owning more than one newspaper or radio station.

Doherty warned that the party's plans would allow regional giants such as Newsquest and Trinity Mirror to merge, leading to "homogenised output with little by the way of local accountability".

Besides the merits or otherwise of the plans, has no one told Hunt that, after the past year, comparisons with City deregulation really aren't the best way to sell a policy?

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The trouble with a second Brexit referendum

A new vote risks coming too soon for Remainers. But there is an alternative. 

In any given week, a senior political figure will call for a second Brexit referendum (the most recent being David Miliband). It's not hard to see why. EU withdrawal risks proving an act of political and economic self-harm and Leave's victory was narrow (52-48). Had Remain won by a similar margin, the Brexiteers would have immediately demanded a re-run. 

But the obstacles to another vote are significant. Though only 52 per cent backed Brexit, a far larger number (c. 65 per cent) believe the result should be respected. No major party currently supports a second referendum and time is short.

Even if Remainers succeed in securing a vote, it risks being lost. As Theresa May learned to her cost, electorates have a habit of punishing those who force them to polls. "It would simply be too risky," a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Were a second referendum lost, any hope of blocking Brexit, or even softening it, would be ended. 

The vote, as some Remainers note, would also come at the wrong moment. By 2018/19, the UK will, at best, have finalised its divorce terms. A new trade agreement with the EU will take far longer to conclude. Thus, the Brexiteers would be free to paint a false picture of the UK's future relationship. "It would be another half-baked, ill-informed campaign," a Labour MP told me. 

For this reason, as I write in my column this week, an increasing number of Remainers are attracted to an alternative strategy. After a lengthy transition, they argue, voters should be offered a choice between a new EU trade deal and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be a distant memory. The proviso, they add, is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms (rather than ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). 

Rather than publicly proposing this plan, MPs are wisely keeping their counsel. As they know, those who hope to overturn the Brexit result must first be seen to respect it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.