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Laurie Penny on why the momentum of the Murdoch backlash must not slow

The Murdoch red-tops are not moral arbiters, they are brutal mercenary machines.

For years, the Murdoch press has manipulated a particular type of moral outrage in order to peddle its propaganda of war and hate. Now, with the scandal of Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl whose phone was reportedly hacked by a detective employed by News of the World, that very same moral outrage has been turned back against News International. It's like an attack-dog finally turning around to savage its abusive master.

It has become clear to the public that the Murdoch red-tops are not moral arbiters. Rather, they are brutal mercenary machines.

They have been permitted to continue these practices by a toothless and impotent Press Complaints Commission which is itself coming under scrutiny as more and more abuses are uncovered. What is startling about the avalanche of other 'revelations' that have followed the Milly Dowler affair is that most of them have been public knowledge for some time.

It was widely acknowledged that the News of the World paid the police handsomely for information; it was known that News International has for some time enjoyed a close working relationship with the Metropolitan police, a relationship that began thirty years ago in Wapping, when News International crushed the print unions with the co-operation of Mrs Thatcher and the Met.

It was also well known, to the point of being dinner-table conversation, that the Murdoch empire has had at least five successive British governments in a headlock, and that Rupert Murdoch and his son wield colossal unelected power in this country, as well as in Australia and the United States.

David Cameron, like Tony Blair before him, has been convinced that the office of Prime Minister is in the gift of the Murdoch empire. This is no longer entirely true - the Conservatives increased their share of the vote by less than 4 per cent and failed to win a majority at the last General Election despite a thundering campaign across News International. But the idea of the Murdochs as kingmakers is tenacious. Yesterday, during a seat-clutchingly irreverent episode of Question Time, it was former Sun journalist Jon Gaunt who put his finger firmly on what everyone knows and few have dared to say, as he described a Murdoch summer party three years ago:

All of what you might call the great and the good were there. All of the Labour cabinet were there, all of the shadow cabinet, it was like being in the court of the Sun King - if you get the joke - and these people do control the country...What we need in this country is a separate judiciary, we need an independent police force...and we need the press and the politicians to be separate as well.

It is not without reason that News International and its sister companies have come to be known as the Murdoch "Empire". Rupert Murdoch is an oligarch in the classic understanding of the term; his extraordinary influence extends across continents, and governments across the world clamour to bring him tribute in the form of lucrative business deals and favours. In the UK, despite the current scandals, the public still have no assurance that the remaining 60 per cent of BSkyB that Murdoch does not currently own will not be handed to him.

What is truly terrifying is how little the strategic amputation of the News of the World, one of the most widely-read English language papers on the planet with a 168-year history, seems likely to damage News International. It is not inconceivable that that this imperial spell will only be broken when the ageing oligarch finally goes to meet his gods.

Right now, the backlash has begun, and it is about far more than Milly Dowler. Her face, plastered all over the tabloids yet again, has given the rest of the press and a few brave politicians enough moral backbone to stand up and speak truth to power, which is precisely what they have allowed themselves to be bullied out of doing for 30 long years.

We have been shown incontrovertible proof, in Shirley Williams' words, of "how corrupt it all is". However the momentous the closure of the News of the World may seem, we must not allow ourselves to be satisfied with it, nor even with a drawn-out public enquiry. The momentum of this backlash must be maintained, and we must demand, at very least, that the BSkyB deal be thrown out.

These oligarchs need, for once in thirty years, to be told "no". They need to understand that the public are not mindless consuming animals who can be manipulated into buying their products and electing their politicians. They need to understand that people, on the contrary, are complex, and decent, and can only be pushed so far.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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Brexit is an opportunity to rethink our economic model

Our industrial strategy must lift communities out of low-wage stagnation, writes the chair of the Prime Minister's policy board. 

With the long term fallout of the great crash of 2008 becoming clearer the issue of "inclusive growth" has never been more urgent.

Eight years after the Great Crash, it is becoming clear that the long term impacts of the crisis profoundly challenges the model of economy - and politics - we have become used to. Asset inflation and technological revolutions are entrenching untold wealth for a small global elite.

This sits alongside falling relative disposable incomes for the many, and increasing difference in the disposable income of different generations. Meanwhile, a cohort of "just-about-managing" citizens are working harder than ever simply to get by, despite falling rates of savings. All of this – along with a persistent structural deficit in pensions, welfare and health budgets - combines to create an urgent need for new economic thinking about a model of growth and 21st century economic citizenship that works better for all people and places in our country.

The main political parties have set out to tackle these challenges and develop policy programmes for them. Theresa May has set out a bold new Conservative agenda of reforms to help those of our fellow citizens who are working hard but struggling to get by: to build an economy that works for everyone, and for the people and places left behind.

But this challenge is also generational, and will need thinkers from all parties - and none - to talk and think together about fresh approaches. This is why this cross-party initiative on inclusive growth is a welcome contribution to the policy debate.

The Prime Minister leads a government committed not just to deliver Brexit, but also to the fresh thinking and fresh solutions to the scale of the domestic challenges we face, which clearly contributed to the scale of the Leave vote last June. As she has said, it's clear that as well as rejecting the EU, voters were rejecting a model of growth that wasn’t working for them.

The UK’s vote to leave the European Union was one of the most dramatic and significant political events in decades – for this country and potentially for Europe. It changes everything: our economic model, our long term economic prospects, the assumptions and mechanisms through which we run most of our government and the diplomatic and economic status of the UK internationally.

Delivering a successful Brexit – one which strengthens our global security, our united kingdom, our economy and popular trust in parliamentary democracy, and a model of political economy that works to these ends, will dominate this political generation.

This is a challenge. But it is also an unprecedented opportunity to reform our model of political economy to tackle the causes of deepening domestic political disillusionment and put our country on the path to long-term recovery. 

Brexit provides us with a unique chance to address two of the most important public policy challenges facing our country.

First, the need to enable and enhance the conditions for creating and developing greater enterprise and innovation across our economy, in order to increase competitiveness and productivity. Second, the need to tackle the growing alienation of so many people and places from the opportunities of globalisation, which has in turn entrenched attitudes towards welfarism. I believe these two challenges are fundamentally linked. 

Without social mobility, and the removal of the barriers holding back national and regional participation enterprise, we will never be able to tackle the structural challenges of productivity, public service modernisation, competitiveness and innovation. 

It's becoming clearer to more and more people that a 21st century "innovation economy" both requires and drives an "opportunity society". You can't have an enterprising economy with low rates of social mobility. And the entrepreneurial spirit of economic aspiration is the fuel that powers the engine of social mobility.

For too long, we have run an economic model based on generating growing tax revenues from an ever smaller global elite, in order to pay for the welfare costs of a workforce increasingly dependent on handouts.

Whitehall has tended to treat social policy quite separately from economic policy. This siloed thinking – the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for "growth" and the Department for Work and Pensions, Department of Health and Department for Education for "public services" - compounds a lack of the kind of integrated policymaking needed to tackle the socio-economic causes of low productivity. The challenges holding back the people and places we need to help do not fall neatly into Whitehall silos. 

Since 1997, successive governments have pursued a model of growth based on a booming service sector, high levels of low-cost migrant labour and housing and asset inflation. At the same time, policymakers tried to put in place framework to support long term industrial renaissance and rebalancing. The EU referendum demonstrated that this model of growth was not working for enough people. 

Our industrial strategy must be as much about lifting communities out of low-skill and low-wage stagnation as it is about driving pockets of new activity. We need Cambridge to continue to grow, but we also need to ensure that communities from Cromer to Carlisle and Caithness, which do not enjoy the benefits of being a global technology cluster, can participate too. That means new measures to spread opportunities more widely. 

The Great Crash and its aftermath - including Brexit - represents a chance for a new generation to think these problems through and tackle them. We all have a part to play. Six years ago, I set up the 2020 Conservatives Group in Parliament, as a forum for a new generation of progressive Conservative MPs, regardless of increasingly old-fashioned labels of "left" or "right", or where they stood on the Europe debate. This is a forum to discuss new ways to tackle the current problems facing our country, beyond the conventional silos of Whitehall. Drawing on previous career experiences outside of Parliament, the group also looks ahead strategically at the potential longer-term social and economic challenges that may confront us in the future.

I believe that technology, and a new zeitgeist for public sector (as well as private sector) enterprise hold the key to resolving the barriers that are currently holding back the development of new opportunities. With new approaches, better infrastructure and skills connecting opportunities with the people and places left behind, better incentives for our great innovators, and new models of mutualised public/private partnerships and ventures, we can build an economy that genuinely works for everyone.

The government has already set about making this happen. Through the industrial strategy, the £23bn package of investment in new infrastructure and innovation announced by the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, we can now be much bolder in developing a 21st century knowledge economy infrastructure that will be the foundation for economic success. 

The success of inclusive growth rests on a number of core foundations - that our economy grows, that social inequality is redressed; that people are given the skills they need to pursue a career in the new economy and that we better spread the opportunities of the global economy hitherto enjoyed by a segment of our workforce to the many. 

This can only be achieved if we recognise the way in which enterprise and opportunity are interdependent. Together, politicians from all parties have a chance to set out a new path for a Global Britain: making our country the world capital of innovation and opportunity. Not trickle-down economics, but "innovation economics" where the private and public sector commit to a programme of supporting each other for mutual benefit.

An economy that works for everyone is an economy in which the country unites around the twin pillars of opportunity and security, which are open to all. A country in which "shared values" are as important as "shareholder value". And in which both are better shared by all. A country once again with that precious alignment of economic and social purpose which is the hallmark of all great civilisations. It's a great prize.

This is an edited version of George Freeman's article for All-Party Parliamentary Group on Inclusive Growth's new "State of the Debate" report, available to download here.The APPG on Inclusive Growth's "State of the Debate" event with the OECD, World Economic Forum, RSA and IPPR is on Tuesday 21st February at 6.30pm at Parliament. See for full details. 

George Freeman is the MP for Mid-Norfolk and the chair of the Prime Minister's Policy Board.