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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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

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