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 decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era