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Is it OK to hate News International again?

Back in the late 1980s, it was official Labour policy for MPs to refuse interviews with News International publications. Not that ambitious young politicians, such as home affairs spokesperson Tony Blair, took any notice of the ban whatsoever, you understand. But it’s the thought that counts, right?

Now that the full ugly reality of the hacking scandal has hit home, it is finally OK to hate News International again. But those who remember the last time the two sides weren’t talking are well placed to chip in with a few wry observations here.

Some people are arguing that Ed Miliband should do all he can to stress the close ties between David Cameron and key executives at the media multinational. That’s a judgement call, but what is not in doubt is that the prime minister would have plenty of ammunition with which to strike back.

Blair’s willingness to fly Down Under to address News International corporate bonding bashes, or to schmooze up Berlusconi for the greater good of the Digger, are all well documented. So is Peter Mandelson’s ab fab air-kissy friendship with Elisabeth M, for that matter.

But it’s worth recalling that in the wake of the Wapping dispute of 1986 – a defeat second only to that sustained in the miners’ strike as a setback for the trade union movement – Labour effectively severed all connections with the publisher of Britain’s biggest circulation newspapers.

As late as 1992, the manifesto promised a Monopolies and Mergers Commission inquiry into the concentration of media ownerships. It didn’t mention Murdoch by name; then again, it didn’t have to.

All that changed under New Labour, to the point where the plant that smashed the print unions dedicated itself to churning out red tops urging a Labour vote.

Inevitably politicians will want to keep the mass media onside. Although the famous 1992 claim that ‘It’sThe Sun wot won it’ was a clear exaggeration, support from a widely-read newspaper is always welcome.

It’s just that with News International – and with Daily Mail and General Trust, for that matter – there is always a price tag attached. Elected politicians end up pandering to the agendas of unelected newspaper proprietors.

It would be counterproductive for an opposition party seeking to popularise its policies not to use such platforms as are available to get them across. None of the above should be taken as a call for Ed to turn the clock back a quarter of a century on this one.

But it is time to scrap the spineless subservience that has characterised Labour’s links with the press since the death of John Smith, and if it really isn’t asking too much, maybe even stand up for basic social democratic principle now and then.

One Comment

  1. One person who I remember was happy to accept space in the Murdoch press even while bruises from Wapping were still sore was the Member for Brent East who went on to become Mayor of London, a post he is again contesting and with labour movement backing.

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