First Thoughts: The rise of Lachlan Murdoch, a maverick headmaster and a day at the (amateur) races

After a fierce dynastic struggle, Lachlan has emerged as the heir apparent to the 88-year-old Rupert Murdoch’s diminished but still powerful media empire. 

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No tactical voting for me. I shall support Labour in the European elections. The ambiguity of Jeremy Corbyn’s position on Brexit is, to me, an attraction. I do not want to “back” Remain by voting Lib Dem, Change UK or Green, any more than I want to “back” Leave by voting for the Brexit Party or Ukip. I am tired of this division of the country into warring tribes. I am fed up with hearing that voters want MPs to “get on” with “delivering” Brexit. I’d like Brexit to expire quietly and undramatically. I do not want another referendum on Europe. I want our politicians to forget they ever had one and just “get on” with tackling climate change, inequality, poverty and other issues. I suspect that my attitude is shared by “the silent majority”, to which right-wing politicians have appealed for the past 40 years but now seem conveniently to have forgotten.

Corbyn is right to keep calling for a general election. If Labour goes into it with the most egalitarian and green manifesto it can think of – and says nothing whatever about Brexit – the Tories and even Nigel Farage, confronted by the terrifying (to them) prospect of an economic and social revolution, will change the subject and start their own Project Fear.

Stowe news day

It is often suggested that anyone who introduces Hitler into an argument should be deemed to have lost it. Anthony Wallersteiner, head of Stowe school (termly boarding fees: £12,697), has done just that. He compared complaints that private school pupils are over-represented in the professions and top universities to anti-Semitism. “It was relatively easy,” he told the Times, “for Hitler and his henchmen to suggest that the Jewish minority was over-represented in key professions: medicine, law, teaching and the creative industries.”

This was followed by calls for him to be sacked. I hope he keeps his job and makes more such statements. Those of us who wish rapidly to remove the public schools’ charitable status as well as the dominance of those such as Westminster, St Paul’s, Eton and Winchester over elite university admissions can ill-afford to lose such an ally. Particularly when he runs a school that, according to a Daily Mail report in 2014, has 40 neoclassical buildings scattered across its grounds in which pupils (now of both genders) can complete what they call “the temple challenge” by having sex in every one of them.

Empire of the son

You may have thought Rupert Murdoch was fearsome enough. But now something worse is emerging: Lachlan Murdoch, his eldest son. After a fierce dynastic struggle, Lachlan emerged last year, ahead of his brother James, as the heir apparent to the 88-year-old Rupert’s diminished but still powerful media empire. He now runs the Fox Corporation jointly with his father. His political views, close to those of the alt-right, are significantly more right-wing than his father’s and far more so than his brother’s, who is a liberal by Murdochian standards.

Lachlan’s influence is already evident in Australia, where the Murdochs take more than two-thirds of newspaper sales. In the current general election campaign, now drawing to a close with the two main parties neck-and-neck, the papers’ customary anti-Labor bias has been fiercer than ever. Even the Australian, supposedly an upmarket “quality” paper, has performed “literary gymnastics” to turn every story into “anti-Labor rubbish”, according to a veteran former reporter. Meanwhile, the growing cable channel Sky News Australia, fully controlled by the Murdochs since December 2016, becomes increasingly like its American sister, Fox News, denying climate change, warning of imminent Muslim “invasion” and lamenting the “suicide” of Western civilisation.

We Brits should be thankful that the Murdochs failed to win full control of Sky and sold the network. But they still own the Times, Sunday Times and Sun, and we should worry for those newspapers’ future.

The grand old dukes

The annual Sunday Times Rich List tries to convince us that, if we work hard enough, we too can join the ranks of billionaires and multimillionaires. This year it highlights four who went to state schools (comprehensives in three cases) and emerged with just a few low GCSE grades or equivalents. It is “inglorious academic failures,” we are instructed, “who shall inherit the earth”.

Well, not quite, perhaps. None is worth more than £306m and, crucially, none owes their wealth to property. Soaring above them are the land- and property-owning aristocrats: the dukes of Westminster (£10.1bn), Devonshire (£890m) and Bedford (£740m). Out of the top 100 in the list, 28 owed at least part of their fortune to property and/or inheritance and all but four of the 28 increased their wealth, sometimes substantially, over the past year.

Getting the point

We recently went to a muddy field in Suffolk and watched horses and their riders jumping over fences. This was point-to-point racing, a flourishing sport – with 173 meetings in 2018-19 at venues from Cornwall to Fife – of which you may disapprove because it involves horses that are otherwise used with hounds for hunting foxes (or, we are now assured, following chemical trails). But this is one of the few surviving amateur sports. Professional jockeys and professionally trained horses are excluded. The prize money is trivial: £600 to the winner of the afternoon’s big race, otherwise £200. You can bet, but the queues in the beer tent were longer than those at the book-makers and more people seemed to be enjoying family picnics than watching the races. The whole thing was pleasingly shambolic: though the programme listed up to a dozen horses for each race, only two or three turned up for most. And, I reflected, at least the horses, owners and riders were harmlessly engaged.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article appears in the 17 May 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Return of the Irish question