The Tories come to Murdoch's defence

Tory MPs vote against main criticism of Murdoch in select committee report.

"Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company." That's the sternly-worded conclusion of the media select committee report into phone-hacking. It's a judgement that will do Murdoch no favours in the US, News Corp's main market, where his company is facing new lawsuits over hacking and a possible prosecution under the powerful US foreign corrupt practices act. "British MPs say Murdoch is unfit to run his own company," is a better headline than the Dirty Digger's many enemies could ever have hoped for.

Here's that damning paragraph in full (from p.70):

On the basis of the facts and evidence before the Committee, we conclude that, if at all relevant times Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone-hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited wilful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications. This culture, we consider, permeated from the top throughout the organisation and speaks volumes about the lack of effective corporate governance at News Corporation and News International. We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company (emphasis mine).

Of note is the fact that the committee split along party lines on whether to insert the paragraph into the report. Indeed, as a result, they divided on whether to endorse the final report. Labour MPs Tom Watson, Paul Farrelly, Steve Rotheram, Jim Sherdian and Gerry Sutcliffe, and Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders all voted in favour of it, while Conservative MPs Therese Coffey, Damian Collins, Philip Davies and Louise Mensch voted against (see below). The committee's Conservative chair John Whittingdale has indicated that he would likely have voted with the Tories if required to cast the deciding vote.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 6
Paul Farrelly (Labour)
Steve Rotheram (Labour)
Mr Adrian Sanders (Liberal Democrat)
Jim Sheridan (Labour)
Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Labour)
Mr Tom Watson (Labour)

Noes, 4
Dr Thérèse Coffey (Conservative)
Damian Collins (Conservative)
Philip Davies (Conservative)
Louise Mensch (Conservative)

The Tories would probably argue that it's not the place of politicians to say who should or shouldn't run one of the world's most successful media companies but it will do little to dispel the public suspicion that they are in hock to the Murdoch empire. 

However, it's worth remembering that the committee unanimously agreed that former News of the World editor Colin Myler (who now edits the New York Daily News), former News International legal manager Tom Crone and former News International chief executive Les Hinton misled parliament with their testimony in the summer. The Commons motion on the report will focus on this charge, rather than the criticism of Murdoch, presumably allowing the Tories to vote with Labour and the Lib Dems.

Labour is using this as an opportunity to refocus attention on Ofcom's current review of whether News Corporation is "fit and proper" to hold a broadcasting licence. If found to be an unfit and improper owner, Murdoch could lose his existing 39 per cent stake in BSkyB.

Reflections of Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng as they leave the High Court, London on April 26, 2012 Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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