Ed Miliband calls for the break-up of the Murdoch Empire

Labour leader steps up campaign on media, as poll shows his personal rating is up seven points in a

Ed Miliband has called for Rupert Murdoch's influence on the British media to be scaled back.

In an interview with the Observer, he said: "I think that we've got to look at the situation whereby one person can own more than 20 per cent of the newspaper market, the Sky platform and Sky News. I think it's unhealthy because that amount of power in one person's hands has clearly led to abuses of power within his organisation. If you want to minimise the abuses of power then that kind of concentration of power is frankly quite dangerous."

MIliband describes how he heard the news that Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked by the News of the World. He says that Ed Balls received a text message with the news, and "I literally could not believe it. I could not believe it was true. I could not believe that it had happened."

He adds that he hopes the media landscape has now shifted, and the next election will be fought differently. "So many people have believed that you can't win without Murdoch, you can't win without the Sun. But now the reverse might be the case. I think the endorsement of Murdoch will be a pretty double-edged one at the next general election."

A poll for the Independent on puts the Labour leader's personal approval rating up seven points on a month ago (from 18 per cent to 27 per cent).

Miliband's intervention follows a turbulent 48 hours for News Corporation and for the Metropolitan police, as the latter came under scrutiny for the close friendship between officers Sir Paul Stephenson and John Yates and former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis, who has now been arrested in connection with the phone-hacking enquiry.

Friday saw the resignation of News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton, the chief executive of Dow Jones -- one of Rupert Murdoch's key lieutenants in America. He joined News Corp when a teenager, working on Murdoch's first paper, the Adelaide News.

Murdoch himself spent the afternoon with the parents of murder victim Milly Dowler, whose phone was hacked by the News of the World. The Dowler family's lawyer said Murdoch "held his head in his hands" as he said sorry several times.The News Corp chief took out personally signed adverts in all Britain's major newspapers to apologise for the NoW's actions.

In a series of dramatic developments, it was also revealed:

  • David Cameron invited his former communications chief Andy Coulson to Chequers in March, after he had resigned from No 10 over the hacking scandal.
  • Ed Miliband said Sir Paul Stephenson, the head of the Metropolitan Police, had questions to answer about the hiring of ex-NoW executive Neil Wallis as an adviser after he left the paper. It has emerged that both Stephenson and fellow Met officer John Yates were friends with Wallis, who has now been arrested in the course of the hacking enquiry.
  • The FBI have reportedly begun an investigation into allegations that the phones of 9/11 victims were hacked.
  • The actor Jude Law is to sue The Sun over allegations it hacked his phone while he was in New York, potentially drawing News International into an investigation by the American authorities. He is already suing the NoW. News International have called the claim "a deeply cynical and deliberately mischievous attempt to draw The Sun into the phone-hacking issue".

Although Brooks's resignation may appease public anger, the departure of Hinton is seen by some as even more significant. He worked for News Corp for more than 50 years, and is the only person from the US operation to resign in connection with the phone-hacking scandal.

Hinton told a parliamentary committee in 2009 that there was no evidence the hacking was widespread. In his resignation statement yesterday, he said: "In September 2009, I told the committee there had never been any evidence delivered to me that suggested the conduct had spread beyond one journalist. If others had evidence that wrongdoing went further, I was not told about it."

After an apology for "the pain caused to innocent people", he added: "I want to express my gratitude to Rupert for a wonderful working life. My admiration and respect for him are unbounded. He has built a magnificent business since I first joined 52 years ago and it has been an honour making my contribution."

In Brooks statement, meanwhile, she spoke of the "deep sense of responsibility for the people we have hurt". She added:

I want to reiterate how sorry I am for what we now know to have taken place.

I have believed that the right and responsible action has been to lead us through the heat of the crisis. However my desire to remain on the bridge has made me a focal point of the debate.

This is now detracting attention from all our honest endeavours to fix the problems of the past.

Therefore I have given Rupert and James Murdoch my resignation. While it has been a subject of discussion, this time my resignation has been accepted.

Rupert's wisdom, kindness and incisive advice has guided me throughout my career and James is an inspirational leader who has shown me great loyalty and friendship.

I would like to thank them both for their support.

Last week, Brooks offered her resignation to Rupert Murdoch but was refused. When he flew to London last week, he said that she was his "first priority".

This follows mounting pressure from key figures in and around News Corp. The Daily Telegraph reported that Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth had expressed rage about Brooks' position, telling friends that she had "f*cked the company".

Meanwhile, News Corp's second largest shareholder, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Al Saud, told the BBC's Newsnight on Thursday that Brooks should resign if there was any suggestion that she knew about phone-hacking at News of the World. He said: "I will not accept to deal with a company that has a lady or a man that has any sliver of doubts on her or his integrity."

Tom Mockridge, the head of Sky Italia, will replace Brooks as chief executive of News International with immediate effect.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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