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.


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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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David Cameron's starter homes: poor policy, but good politics

David Cameron's electoral coalition of buy-to-let retirees and dual-earner couples remains intact: for now.

The only working age demographic to do better under the Coalition was dual-earner couples – without children. They were the main beneficiaries of the threshold raise – which may “take the poorest out of tax” in theory but in practice hands a sizeable tax cut to peope earning above average. They will reap the fruits of the government’s Help to Buy ISAs. And, not having children, they were insulated from cuts to child tax credits, reductions in public services, and the rising cost of childcare. (Childcare costs now mean a couple on average income, working full-time, find that the extra earnings from both remaining in work are wiped out by the costs of care)

And they were a vital part of the Conservatives’ electoral coalition. Voters who lived in new housing estates on the edges of seats like Amber Valley and throughout the Midlands overwhelmingly backed the Conservatives.

That’s the political backdrop to David Cameron’s announcement later today to change planning to unlock new housing units – what the governmen dubs “Starter Homes”. The government will redefine “affordable housing”  to up t o£250,000 outside of London and £450,000 and under within it. and reduce the ability of councils to insist on certain types of buildings. He’ll describe it as part of the drive to make the next ten years “the turnaround decade”: years in which people will feel more in control of their lives, more affluent, and more successful.

The end result: a proliferation of one and two bedroom flats and homes, available to the highly-paid: and to that vital component of Cameron’s coalition: the dual-earner, childless couple, particularly in the Midlands, where the housing market is not yet in a state of crisis. (And it's not bad for that other pillar of the Conservative majority: well-heeled pensioners using buy-to-let as a pension plan.)

The policy may well be junk-rated but the politics has a triple A rating: along with affluent retirees, if the Conservatives can keep those dual-earner couples in the Tory column, they will remain in office for the forseeable future.

Just one problem, really: what happens if they decide they want room for kids? Cameron’s “turnaround decade” might end up in entirely the wrong sort of turnaround for Conservative prospects.

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