Political sketch: Laying the Sun King to rest

Rupert takes away all of the blame - none of the responsibility.

 

In the end the Sun King just rambled on as might befit someone in his eighty-first year, and thus Rupert Murdoch was finally laid to rest on the Strand - fittingly at the end of Fleet Street where it all began 45 years ago. 

On the journey we discovered the man with his hand around the throats of all our political leaders believed that if you scratch my back I'll scratch yours - but not when it comes to our political leaders. He did them no favours and they did him none. 

We discovered he had not really liked the News of the World, the newspaper which brought his empire to crisis, and he wished he had closed it years ago. 

We discovered he took all the blame for what has gone wrong but none of the responsibility. 

We discovered he was seriously distressed by what had happened and some people were to blame but clearly not those close to him. 

As dramatic events go, the (probably) final public appearance of the media mogul who has so dominated parts of British public life was almost embarrassing.

At times, he was almost Alex Ferguson in his replies to charges that he had to accept his part in the scandal tied to his newspapers, but as soon as he flared he failed back into the gaps of someone who has remembered the answer but not the question. 

We learned it has cost him hundreds of millions of dollars and it was a serious blot on his reputation. 

We learned that son James might have been too inexperienced for the job that an editor of the Sun said he had been drunk all the time he had the job - but nobody noticed and that the Sun was, and is, his pride and joy. What the Sun says is what Rupert thinks. Or maybe the other way round. 

We learned too that if he had not taken the print unions, some of the papers doing him down today would not have been able to afford it. 

Sadly, or deservedly, he was asked by Lord Leveson to sum up the future of newspapers and he lost his way - maybe just like them. 

His many enemies, well earned and well deserved, will have to settle for the demise of the News of the Screws and the evisceration of son James. But they have also been present for the humbling of Rupert Murdoch - and that should be remembered. 

 

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.