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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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.