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50 People Who Matter 2010 | 1. Rupert Murdoch

Sky Lord.

The rise of Margaret Thatcher, the rise and fall of New Labour, public hostility to the EU: the Murdoch empire has long played a major role in British politics.

Now the Murdoch influence is evident in the US, too. Rupert Murdoch's Fox News has become the leading cable news channel, its viewing figures exceeding those of its rivals CNN and MSNBC combined. According to one poll, the notoriously right-wing Fox is America's most trusted TV news outlet. Two-thirds of Tea Party supporters get their current affairs from Fox.

The controversy over plans to build a mosque (which isn't actually a mosque) close to "Ground Zero" was almost entirely created by Fox and Murdoch's US paper, the New York Post. Murdoch dithered over the 2008 presidential election, eventually backing John McCain. Now, more decisively, he has donated $1m to the Republican Governors Association. If right-wing Republicans do well in the midterm elections - and overthrow President Obama in 2012 - they will owe much to Fox News and Murdoch.

Could the Murdoch-owned Sky News become the British Fox, escaping regulations that require balance? BSkyB, the parent company, is now second only to the BBC - which ministers seem determined to downsize - in the British TV industry. It reaches more than ten million homes, makes profits of £500m a year and spends more on marketing than ITV does on programming.

James Murdoch, head of News Corporation Europe and Asia, has assured ministers that he and his father will not alter Sky News content. But the Murdochs' efforts to buy the 61 per cent of BSkyB they don't already own could allow them to redirect the channel. They could also combine satellite, newspaper and website subscriptions, making sense of their decision to put the online Times and Sunday Times behind a paywall. Newspapers might not directly influence votes, but they still make the political weather. David Cameron is unlikely to stand in their way.

Despite the sale of three Chinese TV channels, the Murdochs continue to spread their influence. Star India grows aggressively. News Corp has taken a stake in Rotana, one of the Arab world's biggest media companies. And the greatest prize of all remains within Murdoch's reach - toppling the New York Times as the leading US paper with the acquisition of the Wall Street Journal. Just possibly, the cash-strapped NY Times itself could fall into his hands.

Yet Murdoch may come to regret making such a powerful enemy. With the assistance of the NY Times, the claim that illegal phone-hacking was endemic at the Murdoch-owned News of the World refuses to go away. So far, the allegations have failed to implicate the former NoW editor Andy Coulson. But could they go higher, Watergate-style? At the very least, if the hundreds of alleged victims sue for breach of privacy, it could cost the company millions.

Next: 2. Barack Obama

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Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 27 September 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The 50 people who matter

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It's time for the government to think again about Hinkley Point

The government's new nuclear power station is a white elephant that we simply don't need.

Today I will welcome Denis Baupin, Vice President of the French Assembly, to Hinkley.

His own choice to come and visit the site of the proposed new nuclear power station reflects his strong desire to prevent the UK disappearing up a dangerous dark alley in terms of energy policy. It also takes place as France takes a totally different path, with the French government recently adopting a law which will reduce nuclear energy in the country.

Greens have opposed Hinkley ever since the government announced its nuclear strategy. Hinkley, with its state aid and an agreed strike price of £92.50 per megawatt, has always been financially and legally suspect but it is now reaching the level of farce. So much so that George Osborne is required to be economical with the truth in front of a House of Lords committee because he cannot find anything honest to say about why this is a good deal for the British people.

Mr Baupin and I will join hundreds of protestors – and a white elephant – to stand in solidarity against this terrible project. The demonstration is taking place under a banner of the triple risks of Hinkley. 

First, there are the safety and technological risks. It is clear that the Pressurised Water nuclear reactor (EPR) – the design proposed for Hinkley C – simply does not work. France’s nuclear safety watchdog has found multiple malfunctioning valves that could cause meltdown, in a similar scenario to the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the US.  The steel reactor vessel, which houses the plant’s nuclear fuel and confines its radioactivity, was also found to have serious anomalies that increase the risk of it cracking. Apart from the obvious safety risks, the problems experienced by the EPR reactors being built at Flammanvile in France and Olkiluoto in Finland have pushed the projects years behind schedule.

Secondly, Hinkley poses risks to our energy security. Hinkley is supposed to produce 7% of the UK's energy. But we now know there will be no electricity from the new nuclear plant until at least 2023. This makes power blackouts over the next decade increasingly likely and the only way to avoid them is to rapidly invest in renewable energy, particularly onshore wind. Earlier this week Bloomberg produced a report showing that onshore wind is now the cheapest way to generate electricity in both the UK and Germany. But instead of supporting onshore wind this government is undermining it by attacking subsidies to renewables and destroying jobs in the sector. 

Thirdly, there is the risk of Chinese finance. In a globalised world we are expected to consider the option of allowing foreign companies and governments to control our essential infrastructure. But it is clear that in bequeathing our infrastructure we lose the political control that strengthens our security. The Chinese companies who will be part of the deal are part owned by the Chinese government and therefore controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. What a toppy-turvy world globalisation has created, where our Conservative British government is inviting the Chinese Communist party to control our energy infrastructure. It also seems that China National Nuclear Company is responsible for the manufacture of Chinese nuclear weapons.

Of course it is the Chinese people who suffer most, being at the hands of an oppressive government and uncontrolled companies which show little respect for employment rights or environmental standards. By offering money to such companies from British consumers through their energy bills our government is forcing us to collude in the low human rights and environmental standards seen in China.  

Research I commissioned earlier this year concluded we can transform the South West, not with nuclear, but with renewables. We can generate 100 per cent of our energy needs from renewables within the next 20-30 years and create 122,000 new quality jobs and boost the regional economy by over £4bn a year.

The white elephant of Hinkley looks increasingly shaky on its feet. Only the government’s deeply risky ideological crusade against renewables and in favour of nuclear keeps it standing. It’s time for it to fall and for communities in the South West to create in its place a renewable energy revolution, which will lead to our own Western Powerhouse. 

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the southwest of England, elected in May 2014. She has published widely, particularly on issues related to green economics. Molly was formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton.