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FT urges Cable to investigate News Corp's BSkyB takeover

Pearson-owned FT said the takeover could prompt Rupert Murdoch's News Corp to "dominate the media sc

The Financial Times has urged business secretary Vince Cable to investigate News Corporation's proposed takeover of BSkyB in the interest of the public, the Guardian reports.

In its leader column, the Pearson-owned FT said the takeover could prompt Rupert Murdoch's News Corp to "dominate the media scene, lock out challengers and stifle the diversity of debate".

The column argued that the News of the World phone-hacking affair raises "broader questions about Murdoch's powerful grip on the UK media industry".

The paper appealed to Cable to examine the deal under British rules governing media diversity, warning that "News [Corporation] and BSkyB would be a truly formidable beast."

Citing the growing dominance of News Corp's UK media assets, the paper said that Sky - which currently accounts for 35 per cent of UK's TV market - will shortly garner at least 50 per cent. It expressed fears that with access to such a big resource, Murdoch could kick off an unprecedented price war thereby driving away other broadcasters from the market.

According to MediaWeek, nearly 30,000 people have signed a petition asking Cable to investigate the News Corp-BSkyB deal fully. Another 18,000 people have also signed an open letter - posted on the website of campaign group 38 Degrees - to stop Murdoch "increasing his stranglehold on a free and independent media in the UK".

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David Cameron’s starter homes: poor policy, but good politics

David Cameron's electoral coalition of buy-to-let retirees and dual-earner couples remains intact: for now.

The only working age demographic to do better under the Coalition was dual-earner couples – without children. They were the main beneficiaries of the threshold raise – which may “take the poorest out of tax” in theory but in practice hands a sizeable tax cut to peope earning above average. They will reap the fruits of the government’s Help to Buy ISAs. And, not having children, they were insulated from cuts to child tax credits, reductions in public services, and the rising cost of childcare. (Childcare costs now mean a couple on average income, working full-time, find that the extra earnings from both remaining in work are wiped out by the costs of care)

And they were a vital part of the Conservatives’ electoral coalition. Voters who lived in new housing estates on the edges of seats like Amber Valley and throughout the Midlands overwhelmingly backed the Conservatives.

That’s the political backdrop to David Cameron’s announcement later today to change planning to unlock new housing units – what the government dubs “Starter Homes”. The government will redefine “affordable housing”  to up to £250,000 outside of London and £450,000 and under within it, while reducing the ability of councils to insist on certain types of buildings. He’ll describe it as part of the drive to make the next ten years “the turnaround decade”: years in which people will feel more in control of their lives, more affluent, and more successful.

The end result: a proliferation of one and two bedroom flats and homes, available to the highly-paid: and to that vital component of Cameron’s coalition: the dual-earner, childless couple, particularly in the Midlands, where the housing market is not yet in a state of crisis. (And it's not bad for that other pillar of the Conservative majority: well-heeled pensioners using buy-to-let as a pension plan.)

The policy may well be junk-rated but the politics has a triple A rating: along with affluent retirees, if the Conservatives can keep those dual-earner couples in the Tory column, they will remain in office for the forseeable future.

Just one problem, really: what happens if they decide they want room for kids? Cameron’s “turnaround decade” might end up in entirely the wrong sort of turnaround for Conservative prospects.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.