Political sketch: No respect for the Murdoch family

James Murdoch's second stint in front of the Culture committee.

His face bore the look of someone who had sat down suddenly on something unexpected and possibly sharp. His voice seemed only to confirm this.

We were to discover later that this was not James Murdoch in front of us but a Mafia boss. Unfortunately he sounded more like Kermit than Michael Corleone. This was going to be it .The unmasking of the man who would be king when Rupert finally moves on to his take-over of the celestial heights.

As befits the next ruler of the universe - and someone who intends to keep his personal contact with Plod of the Yard at some distance - Murdoch minor arrived for his latest confrontation with the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee of the House of Commons with a phalanx of minders and lawyers.

Each of them, including James, had been issued with a poppy, leaving some of the Americans on the team with the slightly nervous look of those who were not sure if they had been asked to pin a target to their lapels.

James was here to answer charges that he had only been adjacent to the truth on his last visit to Westminster, best remembered for his dad getting a pie in the face and his step-mum displaying a formidable left hook.

But he was family-less as he tried yet again to prove he was the Diggers true son and heir, worthy of continuing to run the global enterprise that is News Group/International/Murdoch/Millions. The trouble with the plan to get him was that it depended on the members of the Committee who apparently have a quaint system of never agreeing in advance who is going to ask what.

Their main man was always going to be Labour MP Tom Watson who took on the Empire even when it was still popular and has since carved out a career on the back of his bravery. So you knew it was going to be serious when Tom Watson let it be known he'd had a "late, late night " playing Portal 2 and an "early, early morning" listening to the Clash on full blast.

The tone was set when Tom, having wished his new best friend James a good morning, asked him if he recently been arrested or bailed. When James demurred Tom set off on the long path to prove why either if not both of the above moves should be adopted asap by the authorities.

But the younger Murdoch had clearly not wasted his time since his last appearance and rolled out the answers that made it clear that it was not him but several other people, particularly long-time News of the World legal expert Tom Crone and the last Editor of the NoW Colin Myler whose memories should be further examined.

Indeed James, whose own memory seems to have taken several unplanned holidays in recent years, was happy to rest on his record of frankness and honesty over the whole issue. Not to mention the fact that so far there is no paper trail telling another story.

With Joe Strummer no doubt belting away in the back of his brain, Tom religiously asked all the questions everyone had told him he should and James religiously trotted out the answers he had learned.

Getting nowhere fast Tom then turned the question the minor Murdoch had not prepared an answer to:

"Are you familiar with the term mafia", he asked.

The minders sat forward, the committee sat forward even James sat forward. Was Tom going to reveal some phone-hacking of his own?

Have you heard the term "omerta", he added.

"I am not familiar with such things ", said James in a quote that could be drawn from Godfather 6-had there been one.

"You must be the first mafia boss in history who did not know he was running a criminal enterprise", said Tom.

"Mr Watson, that is inappropriate", said James.

With beds to be checked for horses heads Tom may not have got the chance to read the Sky News strapline running during the clash with a small"c". It said Scotland Yard's hacking squad had 300 million, repeat 300 million, News International emails to look at.

If that is even half true this one will run and run and run and run and run....

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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Debunking Boris Johnson's claim that energy bills will be lower if we leave the EU

Why the Brexiteers' energy policy is less power to the people and more electric shock.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have promised that they will end VAT on domestic energy bills if the country votes to leave in the EU referendum. This would save Britain £2bn, or "over £60" per household, they claimed in The Sun this morning.

They are right that this is not something that could be done without leaving the Union. But is such a promise responsible? Might Brexit in fact cost us much more in increased energy bills than an end to VAT could ever hope to save? Quite probably.

Let’s do the maths...

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the UK imported 46 per cent of our total energy supply. Over 20 other countries helped us keep our lights on, from Russian coal to Norwegian gas. And according to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, this trend is only set to continue (regardless of the potential for domestic fracking), thanks to our declining reserves of North Sea gas and oil.


Click to enlarge.

The reliance on imports makes the UK highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the value of the pound: the lower its value, the more we have to pay for anything we import. This is a situation that could spell disaster in the case of a Brexit, with the Treasury estimating that a vote to leave could cause the pound to fall by 12 per cent.

So what does this mean for our energy bills? According to December’s figures from the Office of National Statistics, the average UK household spends £25.80 a week on gas, electricity and other fuels, which adds up to £35.7bn a year across the UK. And if roughly 45 per cent (£16.4bn) of that amount is based on imports, then a devaluation of the pound could cause their cost to rise 12 per cent – to £18.4bn.

This would represent a 5.6 per cent increase in our total spending on domestic energy, bringing the annual cost up to £37.7bn, and resulting in a £75 a year rise per average household. That’s £11 more than the Brexiteers have promised removing VAT would reduce bills by. 

This is a rough estimate – and adjustments would have to be made to account for the varying exchange rates of the countries we trade with, as well as the proportion of the energy imports that are allocated to domestic use – but it makes a start at holding Johnson and Gove’s latest figures to account.

Here are five other ways in which leaving the EU could risk soaring energy prices:

We would have less control over EU energy policy

A new report from Chatham House argues that the deeply integrated nature of the UK’s energy system means that we couldn’t simply switch-off the  relationship with the EU. “It would be neither possible nor desirable to ‘unplug’ the UK from Europe’s energy networks,” they argue. “A degree of continued adherence to EU market, environmental and governance rules would be inevitable.”

Exclusion from Europe’s Internal Energy Market could have a long-term negative impact

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said that a Brexit was likely to produce an “electric shock” for UK energy customers – with costs spiralling upwards “by at least half a billion pounds a year”. This claim was based on Vivid Economic’s report for the National Grid, which warned that if Britain was excluded from the IEM, the potential impact “could be up to £500m per year by the early 2020s”.

Brexit could make our energy supply less secure

Rudd has also stressed  the risks to energy security that a vote to Leave could entail. In a speech made last Thursday, she pointed her finger particularly in the direction of Vladamir Putin and his ability to bloc gas supplies to the UK: “As a bloc of 500 million people we have the power to force Putin’s hand. We can coordinate our response to a crisis.”

It could also choke investment into British energy infrastructure

£45bn was invested in Britain’s energy system from elsewhere in the EU in 2014. But the German industrial conglomerate Siemens, who makes hundreds of the turbines used the UK’s offshore windfarms, has warned that Brexit “could make the UK a less attractive place to do business”.

Petrol costs would also rise

The AA has warned that leaving the EU could cause petrol prices to rise by as much 19p a litre. That’s an extra £10 every time you fill up the family car. More cautious estimates, such as that from the RAC, still see pump prices rising by £2 per tank.

The EU is an invaluable ally in the fight against Climate Change

At a speech at a solar farm in Lincolnshire last Friday, Jeremy Corbyn argued that the need for co-orinated energy policy is now greater than ever “Climate change is one of the greatest fights of our generation and, at a time when the Government has scrapped funding for green projects, it is vital that we remain in the EU so we can keep accessing valuable funding streams to protect our environment.”

Corbyn’s statement builds upon those made by Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, whose consultations with research groups have stressed the importance of maintaining the EU’s energy efficiency directive: “Outside the EU, the government’s zeal for deregulation will put a kibosh on the progress made on energy efficiency in Britain.”

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.