Five questions answered on the sale of Virgin Media to Liberty Global

Birth of the world’s biggest broadband company.

Today it has been announced that Liberty Global will buy Richard Branson’s Virgin Media. We answer five questions on the two companies impending merger which will create the world’s biggest broadband company.

What is Liberty Global?

Liberty Global is an international media company and one of the largest broadband providers outside the US, operating in 13 countries, including Germany and Belgium.

John Malone is the company’s chairman who has had a long standing rivalry with Rupert Murdoch, who he clashed with in 2001 when News Corp and Liberty Global vied for control of DirecTV Group, the largest US satellite TV broadcaster.

How much has Liberty Global agreed to buy Virgin Media for?

In a cash and stock deal the company will pay $23.3bn (£15bn) to the UK Virgin Media company.

Shareholders in Virgin Media will recieve $47.87 a share, with $17.50 in cash and the rest in Liberty Global shares.

As part of that deal Sir Richard Branson retains a 3 per cent stake in the company, which has a 30-year brand licensing agreement with his Virgin Group.

The merger is subject to shareholder and regulatory approvals.

How does the deal fit into the wider context of the broadband/ pay-TV industry?

The merger will create the world’s biggest broadband company, with 25 million customers in 14 countries, and puts Malone in direct rivalry with Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire owns 39 per cent of BSkyB. The merged company will also be the second biggest pay-TV business after BSkyB in the UK.

Virgin Media was originally created from the merger of NTL and Telewest, and Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Mobile in 2006.

It is thought that Liberty Global will keep the Virgin Media branding.

What has Liberty Global said about its merger with Virgin Media?

Mike Fries, President and CEO of Liberty Global, in a press release statement said: “Adding Virgin Media to our large and growing European operations is a natural extension of the value creation strategy we've been successfully using for over seven years.

“After the deal, roughly 80 per cent of Liberty Global's revenue will come from just five attractive and strong countries - the UK, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

"Like all of our strategic acquisitions we expect this combination to yield meaningful operating and capex synergies of approximately $180 million per year upon full integration.”

What has Virgin Media representatives said?

Virgin Media CEO Neil Berkett said: “Over the past six years, Virgin Media has transformed the digital experience of millions of customers, catalyzed a deep-rooted change in the UK’s digital landscape and delivered impressive growth and returns for our shareholders. I’m confident that this deal will help us to build on this legacy.

“Virgin Media and Liberty Global have a shared ambition, focus on operational excellence and commitment to driving shareholder value. The combined company will be able to grow faster and deliver enhanced returns by capitalizing on the exciting opportunities that the digital revolution presents, both in the UK and across Europe.”

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

Cameron in Nuneaton. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Why fewer of us want a long-term relationship ... with a political party

In 2015, 38 per cent of voters backed a different party to the one they supported in 2010. So what does the rise of swing voters mean for British politics?

For decades political parties have competed furiously for one of the great prizes of British politics: the affections of the swing voter. It wasn’t that long ago that there were relatively few political swingers: until the 1990s, fewer than a quarter of voters would switch parties from one election to the next.

Yet that once relatively rare breed is becoming increasingly common, which means party campaigners are going to have to come up with new tactical thinking. The British Election Study survey panels, conducted episodically over the last fifty years, are unique in that they are able to track the same voters from one election to the next, unlike more conventional opinion polls that only look at a snapshot of voters at a given time. Using these studies, you can identify the percentage of voters who switch their vote from one party to another between each pair of elections since 1966 when such data was first collected.

In 1966 only around 13 per cent of voters had changed their minds since the previous election in 1964. Since then, the proportion of swingers has been steadily increasing, and by 2015, 38 per cent of voters backed a different party to the one they supported in 2010.

The increase in swing voters is pretty consistent. The only exceptions are between February and October 1974, when (understandably) fewer voters changed their minds in eight months than switched in the preceding four years, and between 1997 and 2001, when the electoral dominance of New Labour under Tony Blair held back the tide for a time. These two exceptions aside, the increase has been constant election-on-election.

A lot of vote shifting can go on even between elections where the overall result remains stable. In 2001, for example, more people switched votes than in any election before 1997, with a surprising level of turmoil beneath the surface stability. While these largely cancelled out on that occasion, it set the stage for more dramatic changes in the parties’ votes later on.

So British voters now seem more likely than ever to jump from party to party. But who exactly are these swingers? Are they disillusioned former party loyalists? Or have British voters simply stopped getting into a serious relationship with the parties in the first place? We can get some insight into this using data from the yearly British Social Attitudes Survey, looking at the number of respondents who say that they do not identify with any of the political parties (party identifiers tend to switch much less often) when they are asked ‘Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a supporter of any one political party?’ and then ‘Do you think of yourself as a little closer to one political party than to the others?’ if they say no to the first question. The graph below combines data from 1984 to 2013. Each line represents people who were born in a different year. Higher lines mean that there are more people who do not identify with a political party. So, for instance, voters born in 1955 started with very low levels of non-identification (22 per cent), which have gradually risen to 44 per cent in the latest survey. Most of the lines on the graph go up over time, which shows that almost all generations are falling out of love with the parties.

However, an acquired taste in swinging among the older generations is dwarfed by the promiscuous younger generations – shown by the dashed lines – most of whom never form an attachment to a party at all. Each generation in the data has been less committed to the parties than the previous generation was at the same age, with around 60 per cent of the youngest generation – those born since 1985 – expressing no attachment to any political party.

Since most of this change has been a generational shift, it may be a long road back for the parties. Loyalty to parties is often handed down in families, with children inheriting their parents’ commitment to a party. Now that this process has broken down, and younger generations have lost their attachment to parties, they may in turn pass on this political detachment to their children.

The majority of younger voters have simply never grown up with the idea of getting into a long-term relationship with a political party, so they may never settle down. Many Labour MPs were outraged when it turned out that lots of the new members who joined up to vote for Jeremy Corbyn had voted for the Green Party just a few months before, but this may simply reflect the political approach of a generation who see parties as needing to earn their vote each time rather than commanding lasting, even unconditional loyalty.

If Britain’s newfound taste for swinging isn’t going to disappear any time soon, what does it mean for party competition? In the past most people had settled partisan views, which seldom changed. General elections could be won by attracting the relatively small group of voters who hadn’t made up their minds and could very easily vote for either of the two main parties, so political parties based their strategies around mobilising their core voters and targeting the few waverers. While they worried about traditional loyalists not turning up to the polls, the parties could be assured of their supporters’ votes as long as they got them to the voting booth.

Nowadays, swing voters are no longer a small section of the electorate who are being pulled back and forth by the parties, but a substantial chunk of all voters. This helps to explain why politicians have been so surprised by the sudden rise of new parties competing for groups previously thought to be reliable supporters. The new parties that have entered British politics have also allowed voters to express their views on issues that don’t fall neatly into traditional left– right politics such as immigration (UKIP) or Scottish independence (the SNP). This in turn has posed a dilemma for the traditional parties, who are pulled in multiple directions trying to stop their voters being tempted away.

This may just be the start. If the number of swing voters stays this high, the parties will have to get used to defending themselves on multiple fronts.

This is an extract from More Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box, edited by Philip Cowley and Robert Ford.