Who is Tom Mockridge?

Unlike Rebekah Brooks, News International's new chief executive has so far avoided the spotlight.

Tom Mockridge, who is replacing Rebekah Brooks as chief executive of News International with immediate effect, is the man in the spotlight today.

So who exactly is the former head of Sky Italia? A quick look through his career path so far shows that he has held a variety of executive roles in News Corporation, stretching back two decades.

Mockridge started out as a financial journalist in his native New Zealand, before moving to Australia. After several years in newspapers, he became an adviser to the former Australian prime minister, Paul Keating, while Keating was Treasurer in the 1980s.

In January 1991, Mockridge joined Murdoch's Australian holding company for newspapers. He was assistant CEO at the company for five years, before becoming head of Foxtel, News Corp's Australian pay-TV service. He later held various roles at Star Group, Murdoch's Asian group.

Following a stint back in New Zealand, heading up the country's largest newspaper group, Independent Newspapers, part owned by News Corp, Mockridge moved to Italy in 2002 to be head of Sky Italia. Since 2009, he has been a non-executive director of BSkyB.

But beyond his curriculum vitae, what do we know about the man himself?

An executive who avoids the spotlight and unlike his predecessor, avoids controversy, it is difficult to find many interviews with him. However, this 2004 profile outlines his role in Italy, claiming that Murdoch "hand-picked" Mockridge to take on President Silvio Berlusconi:

If you were Rupert Murdoch and you wanted to put your best man opposite Berlusconi for a big fight, you might choose the exact opposite of the Italian PM. That probably describes Tom Mockridge, the chief executive of Sky Italia and the man charged by Murdoch with imposing the highly successful UK pay-TV model on the Italian landscape.

While Silvio is never out of the headlines, Tom is almost never in them. He rarely gives interviews and when he does it's only if he thinks they will help him attract more subscribers, according to a colleague based in News Corp's New York offices.

The profile paints a picture of a man with forensic focus, saying that he is likely to be"reading every page of a 60-page legal document to ensure that his company's strategies are on track." It also states that he is politically aware -- crucial if he is to step into the breach for this crisis:

"Tom is very politically interested," said former colleague and current COO of Fox International Channels David Haslingden. "He understands the various political agendas. Wherever he goes -- whether it's New Zealand, Hong Kong or Italy - he has a good understanding of what's going on politically and that's very helpful."

The Guardian's Rome correspondent John Hooper adds to this impression:

A model of discretion, he is seldom noticed in public and rarely gives interviews. I have spoken to him only once, and there are plenty of correspondents in Rome and Milan who could not even say that.

In conclusion, Mockridge is almost the exact opposite to Brooks, who in recent weeks has been at the very centre of the media storm around News International. We can safely assume that we will be seeing a lot more of this quiet man in the weeks to come.

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

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An Irish Sea border – and 3 other tricky options for Northern Ireland after Brexit

There is no easy option for Northern Ireland after Brexit. 

Deciding on post-Brexit border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is becoming an issue for which the phrase "the devil is in the detail" could have been coined. Finding a satisfactory solution that delivers a border flexible enough not to damage international trade and commerce and doesn’t undermine the spirit, or the letter, of the Good Friday Agreement settlement is foxing Whitehall’s brightest.

The dial seemed to have settled on David Davis’s suggestion that there could be a "digital border" with security cameras and pre-registered cargo as a preferred alternative to a "hard border" replete with checkpoints and watchtowers.

However the Brexit secretary’s suggestion has been scotched by the new Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, who says electronic solutions are "not going to work". Today’s Times quotes him saying that "any barrier or border on the island of Ireland in my view risks undermining a very hard-won peace process" and that there is a need to ensure the "free movement of people and goods and services and livelihoods".

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has made dealing with the Irish border question one of his top three priorities before discussions on trade deals can begin. British ministers are going to have to make-up their minds which one of four unpalatable options they are going to choose:

1. Hard border

The first is to ignore Dublin (and just about everybody in Northern Ireland for that matter) and institute a hard border along the 310-mile demarcation between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Given it takes in fields, rivers and forests it’s pretty unenforceable without a Trump-style wall. More practically, it would devastate trade and free movement. Metaphorically, it would be a powerful symbol of division and entirely contrary to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. The Police Federation in Northern Ireland has also warned it would make police officers "sitting ducks for terrorists". Moreover, the Irish government will never agree to this course. With the EU in their corner, there is effectively zero chance of this happening.

2. Northern EU-land

The second option is to actually keep Northern Ireland inside the EU: offering it so-called "special status". This would avoid the difficulty of enforcing the border and even accord with the wishes of 56 per cent of the Northern Irish electorate who voted to Remain in the EU. Crucially, it would see Northern Ireland able to retain the £600m a year it currently receives from the EU. This is pushed by Sinn Fein and does have a powerful logic, but it would be a massive embarrassment for the British Government and lead to Scotland (and possibly London?) demanding similar treatment.

3. Natural assets

The third option is that suggested by the Irish government in the Times story today, namely a soft border with customs and passport controls at embarkation points on the island of Ireland, using the Irish Sea as a hard border (or certainly a wet one). This option is in play, if for no other reason than the Irish government is suggesting it. Again, unionists will be unhappy as it requires Britain to treat the island of Ireland as a single entity with border and possibly customs checks at ports and airports. There is a neat administrate logic to it, but it means people travelling from Northern Ireland to "mainland" Britain would need to show their passports, which will enrage unionists as it effectively makes them foreigners.

4. Irish reunification

Unpalatable as that would be for unionists, the fourth option is simply to recognise that Northern Ireland is now utterly anomalous and start a proper conversation about Irish reunification as a means to address the border issue once and for all. This would see both governments acting as persuaders to try and build consent and accelerate trends to reunify the island constitutionally. This would involve twin referendums in both Northern Ireland and the Republic (a measure allowed for in the Good Friday Agreement). Given Philip Hammond is warning that transitional arrangements could last three years, this might occur after Brexit in 2019, perhaps as late as the early 2020s, with interim arrangements in the meantime. Demographic trends pointing to a Catholic-nationalist majority in Northern Ireland would, in all likelihood require a referendum by then anyway. The opportunity here is to make necessity the mother of invention, using Brexit to bring Northern Ireland’s constitutional status to a head and deal decisively with the matter once and for all.

In short, ministers have no easy options, however time is now a factor and they will soon have to draw the line on, well, drawing the line.

Kevin Meagher is a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland Office and author of "A United Ireland: Why unification is inevitable and how it will come about"

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland office.