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John Pilger: Amid the Murdoch scandal, there’s an acrid smell of business as usual

The Fleet Street hacks and men from Westminster are now scrabbling to rewrite the history of the phone-hacking fiasco. The pact between press and parliament remains the same.

In Scoop, Evelyn Waugh's brilliant satire on the press, there is the moment when Lord Copper, owner of the Daily Beast, meets his new special war correspondent, William Boot, in truth an authority on wild flowers and birdsong. A confused Boot is ushered into his lordship's presence by Mr Salter, the Beast's foreign editor.

“Is Mr Boot all set for his trip?"

“Up to a point, Lord Copper."

Copper briefs Boot as follows: "A few sharp victories, some conspicuous acts of personal bravery on the Patriot side and a colourful entry into the capital. That is the Beast policy for the war . . . We shall expect the first victory about the middle of July."

Rupert Murdoch is a 21st-century Lord Copper. The amusing gentility is missing; the absur­dity of his power is the same. The Daily Beast wanted victories; it got them. The Sun wanted dead Argies; gotcha! Of the bloodbath in Iraq, Murdoch said: "There is going to be collateral damage, and if you really want to be brutal about it, better we get it done now . . ." The Times, the Sunday Times, Fox got it done.

Corporate monoculture

Long before it was possible to hack phones, Murdoch was waging a war on journalism, truth, humanity, and succeeded because he knew how to exploit a system that welcomed his devotion to the "free market". He may be more extreme in his methods, but he is no different in kind from many of those now lining up to condemn him who have been his beneficiaries, mimics, collaborators, apologists.

As Gordon Brown turns on his former master, accusing him of running a "criminal-media nexus", watch the palpable discomfort in the new parliamentary-media consensus. "We must not be backward-looking," said a Labour MP. Those parliamentarians caught two years ago with both hands in the Westminster till, who did nothing to stop the killing of hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq, and stood and cheered the war criminal responsible, are now "united" behind the "calm" figure of Ed Miliband. There is an acrid smell of business as usual.

Certainly, there is no "revolution", as reported in the Guardian, which compared the fall of Murdoch with that of the tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania in 1989. The overexcitement is understandable; Nick Davies's scoop is a great one. Yet the truth is, Britain's system of elite monopoly control of the media rests not on News International alone, but on the Mail and the Guardian and the BBC, perhaps the most influential of all. All share a corporate monoculture that sets the agenda of the "news", defines acceptable politics by maintaining the fiction of distinctive parties, normalises unpopular wars and guards the limits of "free speech". This will be strengthened by the illusion that a "bad apple" has been "rooted out".

When the Financial Times complained last September that the BSkyB takeover would give Murdoch dominance in Britain, the media commentator Roy Greenslade came to his rescue. "Surely," he wrote, "Britain's leading business newspaper should be applauding an entrepreneur who has achieved so much from unpromising beginnings?" Murdoch's political control was a myth spread by "naive commentators". Noting his own "idealism" about journalism, Greenslade made no mention of his history on the Sun, or as Robert Maxwell's Daily Mirror editor responsible for the shameful smear that the miners' leader Arthur Scargill was corrupt. (To his credit, he apologised in 2002.)

Greenslade is now a professor of journalism at City University, London. In his Guardian blog of 17 July, he caught the breeze and proposed that Murdoch explain "the climate you created". How many of the political and media chorus now calling for Murdoch's head remained silent over the years as his papers repeatedly attacked the most vulnerable in society? Impoverished single mothers have been a favourite target of tax-avoiding News International. Who in the so-called media village demanded the sacking of Kelvin MacKenzie as Sun editor following his attacks on the dead and dying in the Hillsborough stadium tragedy of 1989?

The kowtowing class

This was an episode as debased as the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone, yet MacKenzie is frequently feted on the BBC and in the liberal press as a "witty" tabloid genius who "understands the ordinary punter". Such vicarious middle-class flirtation with Wapping-life is matched by admiration for the successful Murdoch "marketing model".

In Andrew Neil's 470-page book Full Disclosure, the former editor of Murdoch's Sunday Times devotes fewer than 30 words to the scurrilous and destructive smear campaign that he and his Wapping colleagues conducted against the broadcasters who made the 1988 Thames Television programme Death on the Rock. This landmark, fully vindicated investigation lifted the veil on the British secret state and exposed its ruthlessness under Margaret Thatcher, a confidante of Murdoch's. Thereafter, Thames Television was doomed. Yet Neil has his own BBC programme and his views are sought after across the liberal media.

The Guardian of 13 July editorialised about "the kowtowing of the political class to the Murdochs". This is all too true. Kowtowing is an ancient ritual, often performed by those whose pacts with power may not be immediately obvious, but are no less sulphuric. Tony Blair, soaked in the blood of an entire society, was once regarded almost mystically at the Guardian and Observer as the prime minister who, wrote Hugo Young, "wants to create a world none of us have known [where] the mind might range in search of a better Britain . . ." He was in perfect harmony with the chorus over at Wapping. "Mr Blair," said the Sun, "has vision, he has purpose and he speaks our language on morality and family life." Plus ça change.

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

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Why Theresa May is wrong about immigration

The inconvenient truth: migration helps Britain.

Immigration is a disaster. Well, Theresa May says so, anyway.

May’s speech to the Conservative conference is straight out of the Ukip playbook – which is rather curious, given that she has held the post of Home Secretary for five years, and is the longest-serving holder of the office for half a century. It is crass and expedient tub-thumping (as James Kirkup has brilliantly exposed). And what May is saying is not even true. These are saloon-bar claims, and it is striking that she should unleash them on the Conservative party conference.

“When immigration is too high, when the pace of change is too fast, it’s impossible to build a cohesive society,” May says. Yet, whatever she might say, racism is on the decline. The BNP’s vote in the general election collapsed from 563,000 in 2010 to just 1,667 in 2015. Research by Rob Ford has revealed that the nation is becoming far more tolerant to marriage between races: while almost half of those born before 1950 oppose marriage between black and white people, only 14 per cent of those born since 1980 do. And between 2011 and 2014 (when the figure was last measured), the British Social Attitudes Survey reported a decrease in self-reported racial prejudice, from 38 to 30 per cent.

May also said: “at best the net economic and fiscal effect of high immigration is close to zero.” This is another claim that does not stand up. An OECD study two years ago found that the net contribution of immigrants is worth over £7bn per year to UK PLC: money that would otherwise have to be found through higher taxes, lower spending or more borrowing.

May also asserted that “We know that for people in low-paid jobs, wages are forced down even further while some people are forced out of work altogether.” This ignores the evidence of her own department, who have found “relatively little evidence that migration has caused statistically significant displacement of UK natives from the labour market in periods when the economy is strong.” An LSE study, too, has found “no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs, wages, housing or the crowding out of public services.”

The inconvenient truth is that rising net migration is both proof of, and a reason why, the UK economy is doing well. As immigration has increased, so has growth; employment has risen, including for Britons. This is no coincidence.

To win the “global race”, a country needs to attract skilled immigrants who work hard and put in more than they take out. That is exactly what the UK is doing: net migration has just risen to 330,000, a new record. As a whole these migrants “are better educated and younger than their UK-born counterparts”, as an LSE study has found. In the UK today there is a simple rule: where immigration is highest, growth is strongest. The East Coast and Cornwall suffer from a lack of migration, while almost 40 per cent of a immigrants live in the thriving capital.

Lower immigration would make the UK a less dynamic economy. Firms in London enjoy a “diversity bonus”: those with an ethnically diverse management are more likely to introduce new product innovations, and are better-able to reach international markets, a paper by Max Nathan and Neil Lee has found.

Puling up the drawbridge on immigration would have catastrophic consequences for UK PLC. The OBR have found that with zero net-migration, public sector net debt as a share of GDP could rise to 145 per cent by 2062/63; with high net-migration, it would fall to 73 per cent.

So May should be celebrating that the UK is such an attractive place to live, and how immigration has contributed to its success. By doing the opposite, she not only shows a lack of political leadership, but is also stoking up trouble for the Prime Minister – and her leadership rival George Osborne – during the EU referendum.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.