Political sketch: BSkyBow out

James Murdoch turned down his Godfather 6 role long ago.

You knew it was serious even with the sound down because Kay Burley had her Huw Edwards face on as she confirmed on Sky News her boss was now attempting to write himself out of the script of The Godfather 6.

His formal resignation as chairman of BSkyB may have leaked out at lunchtime but the game was really up for James Murdoch last November when Labour MP Tom Watson asked him if he was, "familiar with the term Mafia". The sharp silence that followed only matched the shock at an earlier hearing when his step-mother had flattened the lad who had slapped his dad in the face with a pie.

This time it was expensively-educated James who had to sit silent as Tom, who holds the same place in the Murdoch affections as John Mann does for George Osborne, plied his trade as torturer-in-chief.

"You must be the first mafia boss in history who did not know he was running a criminal enterprise," said Watson with all the freedom parliamentary privilege can bestow. As James squeezed out the sentence "Mr Watson, that is inappropriate," he must have known that despite closing  the News of the World, and despite the mea culpas of Murdoch senior, this one was going to run and run.

Even as he fled to the United States and abandoned all formal connections with the British newspaper end of the family business, the spotlight remained.

As contagion spread to the Sun and arrests multiplied, even American investors started to wake up to the damage that could be done to the multi-billion pound BSkyB end of the business just by association. The TV regulator Ofcom revealed they were dusting off their "fit and proper persons" paragraph even as the Culture committee argued between themselves over just how big a boot they would put into Murdoch minor for what they see as "memory lapses" during his time at News International. 

With the Committee’s report due out after Easter - no doubt followed by renewed pressure on Ofcom, do not forget - we are also about to move into charge time following the many arrests which have come out of the police inquiry into hacking.

Meanwhile, the Leveson inquiry provides daily up-dates and reminders that there are still plenty of legs left in the story. And then there are the private investigators and the blagging . . .

Can it only be 16 months since James and his wife sat down to a jolly pre-Christmas dinner with the then-News International chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, and her husband Charlie, and their mutual friends David and Samantha Cameron?

Photo: Getty Images

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

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Junior doctors’ strikes: the greatest union failure in a generation

The first wave of junior doctor contract impositions began this week. Here’s how the BMA union failed junior doctors.

In Robert Tressell’s novel, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, the author ridicules the notion of work as a virtuous end per se:

“And when you are all dragging out a miserable existence, gasping for breath or dying for want of air, if one of your number suggests smashing a hole in the side of one of the gasometers, you will all fall upon him in the name of law and order.”

Tressell’s characters are subdued and eroded by the daily disgraces of working life; casualised labour, poor working conditions, debt and poverty.

Although the Junior Doctors’ dispute is a far cry from the Edwardian working-poor, the eruption of fervour from Junior Doctors during the dispute channelled similar overtones of dire working standards, systemic abuse, and a spiralling accrual of discontent at the notion of “noble” work as a reward in itself. 

While the days of union activity precipitating governmental collapse are long over, the BMA (British Medical Association) mandate for industrial action occurred in a favourable context that the trade union movement has not witnessed in decades. 

Not only did members vote overwhelmingly for industrial action with the confidence of a wider public, but as a representative of an ostensibly middle-class profession with an irreplaceable skillset, the BMA had the necessary cultural capital to make its case regularly in media print and TV – a privilege routinely denied to almost all other striking workers.

Even the Labour party, which displays parliamentary reluctance in supporting outright strike action, had key members of the leadership join protests in a spectacle inconceivable just a few years earlier under the leadership of “Red Ed”.

Despite these advantageous circumstances, the first wave of contract impositions began this week. The great failures of the BMA are entirely self-inflicted: its deference to conservative narratives, an overestimation of its own method, and woeful ignorance of the difference between a trade dispute and moralising conundrums.

These right-wing discourses have assumed various metamorphoses, but at their core rest charges of immorality and betrayal – to themselves, to the profession, and ultimately to the country. These narratives have been successfully deployed since as far back as the First World War to delegitimise strikes as immoral and “un-British” – something that has remarkably haunted mainstream left-wing and union politics for over 100 years.

Unfortunately, the BMA has inherited this doubt and suspicion. Tellingly, a direct missive from the state machinery that the BMA was “trying to topple the government” helped reinforce the same historic fears of betrayal and unpatriotic behaviour that somehow crossed a sentient threshold.

Often this led to abstract and cynical theorising such as whether doctors would return to work in the face of fantastical terrorist attacks, distracting the BMA from the trade dispute at hand.

In time, with much complicity from the BMA, direct action is slowly substituted for direct inaction with no real purpose and focus ever-shifting from the contract. The health service is superficially lamented as under-resourced and underfunded, yes, but certainly no serious plan or comment on how political factors and ideologies have contributed to its present condition.

There is little to be said by the BMA for how responsibility for welfare provision lay with government rather than individual doctors; virtually nothing on the role of austerity policies; and total silence on how neoliberal policies act as a system of corporate welfare, eliciting government action when in the direct interests of corporatism.

In place of safeguards demanded by the grassroots, there are instead vague quick-fixes. Indeed, there can be no protections for whistleblowers without recourse to definable and tested legal safeguards. There are limited incentives for compliance by employers because of atomised union representation and there can be no exposure of a failing system when workers are treated as passive objects requiring ever-greater regulation.

In many ways, the BMA exists as the archetypal “union for a union’s sake”, whose material and functional interest is largely self-intuitive. The preservation of the union as an entity is an end in itself.

Addressing conflict in a manner consistent with corporate and business frameworks, there remains at all times overarching emphasis on stability (“the BMA is the only union for doctors”), controlled compromise (“this is the best deal we can get”) and appeasement to “greater” interests (“think of the patients”). These are reiterated even when diametrically opposed to its own members or irrelevant to the trade dispute.

With great chutzpah, the BMA often moves from one impasse to the next, framing defeats as somehow in the interests of the membership. Channels of communication between hierarchy and members remain opaque, allowing decisions such as revocation of the democratic mandate for industrial action to be made with frightening informality.

Pointedly, although the BMA often appears to be doing nothing, the hierarchy is in fact continually defining the scope of choice available to members – silence equals facilitation and de facto acceptance of imposition. You don’t get a sense of cumulative unionism ready to inspire its members towards a swift and decisive victory.

The BMA has woefully wasted the potential for direct action. It has encouraged a passive and pessimistic malaise among its remaining membership and presided over the most spectacular failure of union representation in a generation.

Ahmed Wakas Khan is a junior doctor, freelance journalist and editorials lead at The Platform. He tweets @SireAhmed.