It’s often said that working for the Murdoch media empire is like selling your soul to the devil – with no prospects of a refund.
I’d like to think I emerged from my two-year stint at Sky News with my (progressive) soul intact and unsold.
So too, it seems, did David Yelland, editor of the Sun between 1998 and 2003. In a fascinating article in the Guardian, Yelland describes the threat posed to his former bosses at News International by the Lib Dem “surge” and takes a pot shot at the Tory-supporting media consensus.
Make no mistake, if the Liberal Democrats actually won the election – or held the balance of power – it would be the first time in decades that Murdoch was locked out of British politics. In so many ways, a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote against Murdoch and the media elite.
I can say this with some authority because in my five years editing the Sun I did not once meet a Lib Dem leader, even though I met Tony Blair, William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith on countless occasions. (Full disclosure: I have since met Nick Clegg.)
It is indeed the press, and specifically the Murdoch-owned media, which has propped up the Labour-Tory duopoly in power in recent decades. And Murdoch’s switch from Conservative to Labour back to Conservative (last year) reflects the cynicism so endemic in British journalism.
Over the years the relationships between the media elite and the two main political parties have become closer and closer to the point where, now, one is indistinguishable from the other. Indeed, it is difficult not to think that the lunatics have stopped writing about the asylum and have actually taken it over.
We now live in an era when very serious men and women stay out of politics because our national discourse is conducted by populists with no interest in politics whatsoever. What we have in the UK is a coming together of the political elite and the media in a way that makes people outside London or outside those elites feel disenfranchised and powerless. But all that would go to pot if Clegg were able to somehow pull off his miracle. For he is untainted by it.
Just imagine the scene in many of our national newspaper newsrooms on the morning a Lib-Lab vote has kept the Tories out of office. “Who knows Clegg?” they would say.
There would be a resounding silence.
“Who can put in a call to Gordon?” another would cry.
You would hear a pin drop on the editorial floor.
A hilarious image – and so true!
Yelland then targets the pro-Cameron partisanship of the papers, which long ago put all their eggs in the Cameron basket – as my colleague James Macintyre and I have argued time and again.
The fact is these papers, and others, decided months ago that Cameron was going to win. They are now invested in his victory in the most undemocratic fashion. They have gone after the prime minister in a deeply personal way and until last week they were certain he was in their sights.
I hold no brief for Nick Clegg. But now, thanks to him – an ingenue with no media links whatsoever – things look very different, because now the powerless have a voice as well as the powerful.