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It's time for our politicians to stop courting the Sun King, says Mehdi Hasan

A succession of British prime ministers have been in thrall to the Murdoch empire.

Finally, our leaders are outraged. The claim that the mobile phone of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler was hacked by the News of the World has been described as "truly dreadful" (David Cameron), "totally shocking" (Ed Miliband) and "grotesque" (Nick Clegg). Could this be the moment that Britain's spineless politicians begin to break free from the pernicious grip of the Murdoch media empire?

In recent years, there has been no more sickening - and, I should add, undemocratic - spectacle in British public life than that of elected politicians kneeling before the throne of King Rupert. Paying homage in person to the billionaire boss of News Corporation became almost a rite of passage for new party leaders. Tony Blair, famously, flew out to address News Corp's annual conference on an island off Australia in 1995. "We were thrilled when Tony was invited to be the keynote speaker," writes Blair's ex-chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, in his memoir.

The day after his speech in front of the media mogul, an editorial in the Murdoch-owned Sun declared: "Mr Blair has vision, he has purpose and he speaks our language on morality and family life." By 1997, the Sun - which had heaped such abuse and ridicule on the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock - had officially come out for Blair and, in the wake of his landslide election victory, the new prime minister thanked the Sun for its "magnificent support" that "really did make the difference".

But it didn't. "I think the Sun came out for us because they knew we were going to win," says Blair's former communications chief, Alastair Campbell, now. In a study for the Centre for Research into Elections and Social Trends in 1999, Professor John Curtice of the University of Strathclyde concluded that it "was not the Sun wot won it in 1997", adding: "[T]he pattern of vote switching during the campaign amongst readers of the Sun or any other ex-Tory newspaper proved to be much like that of those who did not read a newspaper at all."

Rupert and friends

Yet Blair - and, lest we forget, Gordon Brown - continued to hug Murdoch close. "He seemed like the 24th member of the cabinet," the former Downing Street spin doctor Lance Price has observed. On issues like crime, immigration and Europe, "his voice was rarely heard . . . but his presence was always felt". Little has changed under Cameron. He appointed Andy Coulson as his director of communications in July 2007 - just six months after the latter had resigned as News of the World editor over the original phone-hacking scandal.

The Tory leader then made his own pilgrimage to the see the Sun King in August 2008, joining Murdoch on his yacht off the coast of Greece. It is said that he removed the liberal Dominic Grieve as shadow home secretary in 2009, on the insistence of News International's chief executive - and close personal friend - Rebekah Brooks, who is now under pressure to quit over her alleged role in the hacking affair. The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, waved through proposals to allow Murdoch to buy all of BSkyB - in the midst of the hacking row.

Why has the political class been seduced by Murdoch? Fear? Deference? Awe of his wealth and power? Murdoch, it is often remarked, spots and backs winners - but nowadays he seems to have lost his Midas touch. In September 2008, the Murdoch-owned New York Post enthusiastically endorsed John McCain, who was defeated by Barack Obama two months later. In September 2010, the Sun came out in favour of David Cameron, who failed to win a parliamentary majority less than than nine months later. "I think the Murdoch press has less influence than it used to," the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, told me in August 2010 in the midst of his leadership campaign. "I don't think the Sun had a particularly good election. Twenty-three front pages supporting the Tories and the Tories got 36 per cent of the vote."

Corp values

Since becoming leader, however, Miliband has sent out mixed signals. In December, he hired the ex-Times journalist Tom Baldwin as his chief spinner. Baldwin would later warn shadow cabinet ministers against linking Murdoch's bid for BSkyB to the phone-hacking scandal and "against anything which appears to be attacking a particular newspaper group out of spite". In April, in a cringe-inducing interview with the Sun, Miliband proclaimed: "I will stand. . . for Sun readers and for their concerns."

And, on 16 June, Miliband arrived at News International's summer party to meet Murdoch for the first time. Shamefully, senior Labour figures - including Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper, Douglas Alexander and the Miliband aides Tom Baldwin and Stewart Wood - outnumbered Tory ministers at the bash.

Then again, Miliband was the first party leader to call for a review of newspaper regulation, after the News of the World admitted to phone hacking in April. He was the first leader to call for a public inquiry into hacking in the wake of the Dowler allegations, and the only party leader to call for Brooks to stand down. In a bravura performance at Prime Minister's Questions on 6 July, Miliband also insisted that News Corp's bid for BSkyB should now be referred to the Competition Commission.

These are encouraging moves that friends say he will not be backing away from. The summer party notwithstanding, Miliband has made it clear that he is the first party leader in a generation who doesn't necessarily quiver at the mention of Murdoch's name. "Ed has made it clear to national newspaper editors that he is going to be his own man and engage with them without fear or favour," says a close ally of his.

Murdoch's poisonous influence on UK politics has to be challenged. If not now, when? If not Ed Miliband, the candidate of "change" and "moving on" from New Labour, then who?

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Photo: Getty Images
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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.