Murdoch wins again

The News Corp head is now free to create a £6.4bn media giant.

The Dirty Digger has won again. Jeremy Hunt has given Rupert Murdoch the green light to buy the 61 per cent of BSkyB he does not already own.

The inevitable concession is a fairly minor one. Sky News will be "spun off" into a new company listed on the stock market, with a new board made up of a majority of independent directors. In addition, News Corp will be blocked from increasing its shareholding in the new company (currently 39.1 per cent) without permission from the Secretary of State for ten years.

For Murdoch, this is little more than an inconvenience. He has won the opportunity to create a new £6.4bn media giant, the likes of which Britain has never seen. As the graphic below shows, the revenues of a combined BSkyB and News International would dwarf those of the BBC.

Media companies by revenue

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And, as former NS editor Peter Wilby notes in this week's magazine, there is nothing in the agreement to prevent Murdoch bundling up subscriptions to his newspapers with subscriptions to Sky. However, while the regulatory hurdles have been removed, the News Corp head still has to persuade BSkyB's shareholders to sell. The current offer of 700p per share is viewed as far too low, not least because BSkyB profits rose by 26 per cent to £467m in the last six months of 2010, with revenues up 15 per cent to £3.2bn. But with News Corp in rude health, largely thanks to bumper profits from its filmmaking division, Murdoch is likely to make a significantly improved offer.

Eight days short of his 80th birthday, and with one of his tabloids the subject of a police investigation, he has outplayed them all again.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn secures big victory on Labour's national executive committee

The NEC has approved rule changes which all-but-guarantee the presence of a Corbynite candidate on the ballot. 

Jeremy Corbyn has secured a major victory after Labour’s ruling executive voted approve a series of rule changes, including lowering the parliamentary threshold for nominating a leader of the Labour party from 15 per cent to 10 per cent. That means that in the event of a leadership election occurring before March 2019, the number of MPs and MEPs required to support a candidate’s bid would drop to 28. After March 2019, there will no longer be any Labour MEPs and the threshold would therefore drop to 26.

As far as the balance of power within the Labour Party goes, it is a further example of Corbyn’s transformed position after the electoral advance of June 2017. In practice, the 28 MP and MEP threshold is marginally easier to clear for the left than the lower threshold post-March 2019, as the party’s European contingent is slightly to the left of its Westminster counterpart. However, either number should be easily within the grasp of a Corbynite successor.

In addition, a review of the party’s democratic structures, likely to recommend a sweeping increase in the power of Labour activists, has been approved by the NEC, and both trade unions and ordinary members will be granted additional seats on the committee. Although the plans face ratification at conference, it is highly likely they will pass.

Participants described the meeting as a largely low-key affair, though Peter Willsman, a Corbynite, turned heads by saying that some of the party’s MPs “deserve to be attacked”. Willsman, a longtime representative of the membership, is usually a combative presence on the party’s executive, with one fellow Corbynite referring to him as an “embarrassment and a bore”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.