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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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.