Maybe even Murdoch isn't smart enough to solve this one

With every new revelation, you have question how much longer this can last without becoming real tro

Where do we go from here? The events of the past week have left many of us reeling, and it seems there is more to come. Every time I sit down to write something about the unfolding disaster for the Murdoch empire, there's a new development. The news is moving faster than ever before, it would seem, and the old rules of engagement have been cast aside: now the papers are openly taking shots at each other.

Time was you could rely on what Henry Kissinger might have called an "uneasy peace" in Fleet Street. We knew they all hated each other, and wanted to bring each other down, but they didn't declare open warfare. Now that's changed: the Mirror has piled on to the giant playground bundle on Rupert Murdoch and decided now is the time to make capital out of their rivals' misfortune (or misdeeds, whichever way you want to look at it). You can see the attraction, although I rather fear it will be the Daily Mail, as ever, which quietly goes about picking up the biggest share of disaffected Sun readers and former News of the World readers. It doesn't need to go for the jugular -- it just sits back and picks up the scraps.

It's a strange, bewildering scene, this News of the World-free Britain, a place where allegation and counter-allegation get fired out in rapid succession. When the biggest selling newspaper can disappear in the course of a week, it seems everything is built on sand, including the sureness of our Prime Minister's long-term future. The once automaton-smooth David Cameron has looked agitated, out of his depth, uneasy and uncertain when answering tough questions from the kind of journalists who don't do dirty digging. He even ended up repeating the same phrases over and over again ("second chance" re: Andy Coulson) in exactly the same way that made his counterpart Ed Miliband a laughing stock only a few days before. And then there is Miliband, a Dalek-like milquetoast one minute and a ferocious performer the next, seizing his opportunity to be more than a punctuation mark in Labour's history. What's going on?

Peering on from the sidelines, one feels like Harry Carpenter incredulously screaming "He's hurt Tyson!" as the massive underdog Frank Bruno landed a quality shot on the world heavyweight champion back in 1989. We all knew it wouldn't last, and Bruno was going to be splattered into a meaty pulp at some point during the evening, but there, just for a moment, the certainties were shaken to the core. Surely it will all be all right in the end for Rupert Murdoch; surely this is just a blip in his otherwise glittering career. "Say what you like about Murdoch, but he always gets it right." That was the received wisdom before this past crazy fortnight -- something we could all rely on, whatever happened. And surely that won't change. It can't change. Can it?

Perhaps it can. Maybe Murdoch's aura -- if it ever really existed -- is beginning to fade. For now, acts of desperation can be top-spun into shrewd little deals. Optimistic statements that everything is going to be all right can be portrayed as promises, rather than aspirations. But with every passing day, every passing moment of uncertainty and turmoil, every new revelation eagerly unearthed and devoured, you have to call into question how much longer this can last without it becoming real trouble. It was tempting to see the daft old billionaire grinning away with Rebekah Brooks in the street the other day and recall the outraged Sun headline "CRISIS -- WHAT CRISIS?" Which presaged the decline of "Sunny Jim" Callaghan. But maybe not. Maybe Murdoch will get out of this, like he's got out of fixes before.

We shouldn't underestimate him, of course. He's not that dumb; far from it. But maybe even he isn't smart enough to solve this one.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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This election has sparked a weird debate – one in which no one seems to want to talk

 The noise level hasn’t risen above a low gurgle in the background.

If this is a general election in which the tectonic plates are shifting, they’re the quietest tectonic plates I’ve ever heard. All the parties are standing on pretty radical platforms, yet the noise level hasn’t risen above a low gurgle in the background, like a leaking tap we can’t be bothered to get fixed.

Big issues are being decided here. How do we pay for care, or health, or education? How do we square closed borders with open trade, and why isn’t anyone talking about it? Democracy is on the line, old people are being treated like electoral fodder, our infrastructure is mangled, the NHS is collapsing around us so fast that soon all that’s left will be one tin of chicken soup and a handful of cyanide capsules, and we face the prospect of a one-party Tory state for decades to come. All this and yet . . . silence. There seem to be no shouts of anger in this election. It’s a woozy, sleepy affair.

I knew something was afoot the moment it was called. Theresa May came out of No 10 and said she was having an election because she was fed up with other parties voting against her. No one seemed to want to stand up and tell her that’s a pretty good definition of how functioning democracy works. Basically, she scolded parliament for not going along with her.

Why were we not stunned by the sheer autocratic cheek of the moment? With news outlets, true and fake, growing in number by the day, why was this creeping despotism not reported? Am I the only one in a state of constant flabbergast?

But the Prime Minister’s move paid off. “Of course,” everyone said, “the real argument will now take place across the country, and we welcome,” they assured us, “the chance to have a national debate.”

Well, it’s a pretty weird debate – one in which no one wants to talk. So far, the only person May has debated live on air has been her husband, as Jeremy Corbyn still wanders the country like an Ancient Mariner, signalling to everyone he meets that he will not speak to anyone unless that person is Theresa May. Campaign events have been exercises in shutting down argument, filtering out awkward questions, and speaking only to those who agree with every word their leader says.

Then came the loud campaign chants – “Strong and stable” versus “The system’s rigged against us” – but these got repeated so often that, like any phrase yelled a thousand times, the sense soon fell out of them. Party leaders might as well have mooned at each other from either side of a river.

Granted, some others did debate, but they carried no volume. The Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall, achieved what no one thought possible, by showing the country that Nigel Farage had stature. And there’s a special, silent hell where Tim Farron languishes, his argument stifled at every turn by a media bent on quizzing him on what sort of hell he believes in.

Meanwhile, the party manifestos came out, with titles not so much void of meaning as so bored of it that they sounded like embarrassed whispers. Forward, Together; The Many Not the Few; Change Britain’s Future: these all have the shape and rhythm of political language, but nothing startles them into life. They are not so much ­clarion calls as dusty stains on old vellum. Any loosely connected words will do: Building My Tomorrow or Squaring the Hypotenuse would be equally valid. I still pray for the day when, just for once, a party launches its campaign with something like Because We’re Not Animals! but I realise that’s always going to stay a fantasy.

Maybe because this is the third national vote in as many years, our brains are starting to cancel out the noise. We really need something to wake us up from this torpor – for what’s happening now is a huge transformation of the political scene, and one that we could be stuck with for the next several decades if we don’t shake ourselves out of bed and do something about it.

This revolution came so quietly that no one noticed. Early on in the campaign, Ukip and the Conservatives formed a tacit electoral pact. This time round, Ukip isn’t standing in more than 200 seats, handing Tory candidates a clear run against their opponents in many otherwise competitive constituencies. So, while the left-of-centre is divided, the right gets its act together and looks strong. Tory votes have been artificially suppressed by the rise of Ukip over the past few elections – until it won 12.6 per cent of the electorate in 2015. With the collapse of the Ukip vote, and that party no longer putting up a fight in nearly a third of constituencies, Theresa May had good reason to stride about the place as cockily as she did before the campaign was suspended because of the Manchester outrage.

That’s why she can go quiet, and that’s why she can afford to roam into the centre ground, with some policies stolen from Ed Miliband (caps on energy bill, workers on company boards) and others from Michael Foot (spending commitments that aren’t costed). But that is also why she can afford to move right on immigration and Brexit. It’s why she feels she can go north, and into Scotland and Wales. It’s a full-blooded attempt to get rid of that annoying irritant of democracy: opposition.

Because May’s opponents are not making much of this land-grab, and because the media seem too preoccupied with the usual daily campaign gaffes and stammering answers from underprepared political surrogates, it falls once again to the electorate to shout their disapproval.

More than two million new voters have registered since the election was announced. Of these, large numbers are the under-25s. Whether this will be enough to cause any psephological upsets remains to be seen. But my hope is that those whom politicians hope to keep quiet are just beginning to stir. Who knows, we might yet hear some noise.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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