Murdoch donates $1m to Republicans

He supported Obama in 2008, but now the media tycoon has made one of the Republicans’ biggest privat

Rupert Murdoch has donated $1m to the Republican Party in advance of the midterm elections in November.

The media magnate supported and praised Barack Obama from early on in the primary season in 2008, but has now turned to the Republicans, it seems. News Corporation commented that it supported the Republicans' "pro-business agenda" and felt that the party was aligned with "our priorities at this most critical time for our economy".

The Murdoch-owned titles the Wall Street Journal and New York Post, as well as Fox News, have long been editorially aligned with the Republicans, and now Murdoch himself is following suit.

Crucially, the donation was made to the Republican Governors Association (RGA). Although the main focus so far has been on the House and Senate races, where unusual candidates and unusually large predicted gains have drawn media attention, the GOP also looks likely to gain a majority of governorships. There are 37 governorships being contested this year, the most ever in a single election.

Unlike national political parties and individual candidates for the House and Senate, gubernatorial campaigns can accept unlimited donations from corporations. News Corporation has clearly taken advantage of this in choosing the destination of its funds.

Kansas, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wyoming and Wisconsin all look likely to swing to the Republicans, and in several more states the race is too close to call. A combination of governing-party implosion and the after-effects of the recession will probably allow the Republicans to take six or seven governorships overall, despite a few potential wobbles by GOP candidates in Connecticut, Hawaii and Minnesota.

This is by no means the first time that Murdoch has switched political allegiances to favour his own business interests. In the UK, his famed switch from Conservative to Labour stands out, as does the less prominent switch back for the most recent general election.

Targeting the funding at gubernatorial races rather than those for the House and Senate is undoubtedly designed to further the "pro-business agenda" identified by News Corporation. Although there are variations with individual state constitutions, many governors wield immense power over budgeting and local government appointments, enabling them to set the agenda for regulation and taxation in their state. It increasingly seems that many state legislatures will also swing to the Republicans, and so new governors aren't likely to have much trouble passing legislation once they're in office.

According to information released through the Internal Revenue Service, the RGA has raised $58m in the first half of this year to the Democrats' $40m. In addition to benefiting from anti-incumbent sentiment and recession backlash, the RGA has received significant donations from health insurance giants such as Wellpoint, in response to the passage of the Democrats' health-care bill earlier this year.

Across the US, the midterms are going to be a useful political bellwether for how the parties are really faring post-2008. Murdoch's donation signals perhaps the most intriguing area: how many governorships can the Republicans take?

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.