Google hasn't caved in to Murdoch

The search engine has not capitulated to News Corp's demands

So, is this round one to Mr Murdoch? I don't think so. Google has announced two changes to the way it treats paid-for content. Its First Click Free programme, which currently allows users to access an unlimited number of articles, will now cap the number of subscription articles readers can view at five.

For Murdoch, this is still likely to be five too many. Jeremy Clarkson's weekly column is reportedly responsible for 25 per cent of the traffic to the Times's website. Will News Corp executives really be content for Clarkson fanatics to read his ramblings for free?

Google has also announced that it will crawl, index and treat as "free" any preview pages -- usually the headline and first few lines of a story -- from subscription websites. Such stories will then be labelled as "subscription" in Google News. This is still unlikely to placate Murdoch, who has insisted that even the use of a story's headline and standfirst is tantamount to "theft". Though clearly this principle doesn't extend to the parasites, plagiarists and kleptomaniacs who run the Times's (excellent) CommentCentral blog.

So, despite some bloggers claiming Google has "caved" in to Murdoch, don't worry. It hasn't. Had Google pre-empted Murdoch's anticipated deal with Bing by offering to pay him for News Corp content, we could have justly cried, "Capitulation!" But no one at Google is contemplating such an absurd manoeuvre. Instead, by offering to compromise with Murdoch, the search engine has made itself look like the reasonable party.

Murdoch's commitment to find new revenue streams for his newspapers is in many ways admirable. We can all laugh at the proprietor of Fox News and the News of the World declaring that "quality journalism is not cheap", but the Times's permanent bureaux in Baghdad and Kabul really aren't.

Much of the industry is trying to have it both ways, mocking Murdoch's verbal assaults on free content while secretly hoping he manages to "rewrite the economics of newspapers". The truth is that it may be too late for that. Google got there first.


Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Could Labour lose the Oldham by-election?

Sources warn defeat is not unthinkable but the party's ground campaign believe they will hold on. 

As shadow cabinet members argue in public over Labour's position on Syria and John McDonnell defends his Mao moment, it has been easy to forget that the party next week faces its first election test since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. On paper, Oldham West and Royton should be a straightforward win. Michael Meacher, whose death last month triggered the by-election, held the seat with a majority of 14,738 just seven months ago. The party opted for an early pre-Christmas poll, giving second-placed Ukip less time to gain momentum, and selected the respected Oldham council leader Jim McMahon as its candidate. 

But in recent weeks Labour sources have become ever more anxious. Shadow cabinet members returning from campaigning report that Corbyn has gone down "very badly" with voters, with his original comments on shoot-to-kill particularly toxic. Most MPs expect the party's majority to lie within the 1,000-2,000 range. But one insider told me that the party's majority would likely fall into the hundreds ("I'd be thrilled with 2,000") and warned that defeat was far from unthinkable. The fear is that low turnout and defections to Ukip could allow the Farageists to sneak a win. MPs are further troubled by the likelihood that the contest will take place on the same day as the Syria vote (Thursday), which will badly divide Labour. 

The party's ground campaign, however, "aren't in panic mode", I'm told, with data showing them on course to hold the seat with a sharply reduced majority. As Tim noted in his recent report from the seat, unlike Heywood and Middleton, where Ukip finished just 617 votes behind Labour in a 2014 by-election, Oldham has a significant Asian population (accounting for 26.5 per cent of the total), which is largely hostile to Ukip and likely to remain loyal to Labour. 

Expectations are now so low that a win alone will be celebrated. But expect Corbyn's opponents to point out that working class Ukip voters were among the groups the Labour leader was supposed to attract. They are likely to credit McMahon with the victory and argue that the party held the seat in spite of Corbyn, rather than because of him. Ukip have sought to turn the contest into a referendum on the Labour leader's patriotism but McMahon replied: "My grandfather served in the army, my father and my partner’s fathers were in the Territorial Army. I raised money to restore my local cenotaph. On 18 December I will be going with pride to London to collect my OBE from the Queen and bring it back to Oldham as a local boy done good. If they want to pick a fight on patriotism, bring it on."  "If we had any other candidate we'd have been in enormous trouble," one shadow minister concluded. 

Of Corbyn, who cancelled a visit to the seat today, one source said: "I don't think Jeremy himself spends any time thinking about it, he doesn't think that electoral outcomes at this stage touch him somehow."  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.