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

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496