Opinion: Nick Clegg didn’t suck up to Murdoch – that’s why his minions tried to destroy him

There was a moment during the election campaign last year when many Liberal Democrats realised we had passed through the looking glass.

Nick Clegg’s performance in the first leaders’ debate broke the glass ceiling of British politics and, it seems, caused more than one Tory-supporting newspaper editor to wet themselves in fear.

Then, on the eve of the second debate, the right wing press let slip the dogs of war.

It wasn’t just the Murdoch papers that went for Nick, but they did and they did it viciously. The Sun ridiculed him, splashing outrageous and ridiculous headlines on their front page for days on end. All of a sudden he was a fool, a menace and a risk to the economy who wanted to let asylum seekers eat your children and paedophiles run wild.

Why?

Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems didn’t suck up to Rupert Murdoch. He wasn’t bosom buddies with Rebekah Brooks.

So when it looked like a politician who wasn’t in Murdoch’s pocket might rise to power, or at least hold the balance of power, Murdoch’s minions set out to destroy him.

Don’t take my word for it, this is former Sun editor David Yelland at the time:

I doubt if Rupert Murdoch watched the election debate last week…But if he did, there would have been one man totally unknown to him. One man utterly beyond the tentacles of any of his family, his editors or his advisers. That man is Nick Clegg.

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.

Or how about the Independent’s Steve Richards yesterday?

Look also what happened to Nick Clegg during the last election. Clegg had never engaged in wooing. In response to his surging popularity, the Tory-supporting newspapers, including most of those at News International, turned on him, again working closely with Coulson.

I don’t want to bore you for long with guff about values and principles and all that. But, just briefly, Liberals by their nature are inherently suspicious of entrenched power and vested interests – we think it inhibits freedom and social progress. Entrenched power and vested interests – that sums up Rupert Murdoch and his media empire pretty neatly.

And before anyone suggests we abandoned these principles on the doorstep of Number 10, remember that while David Cameron was quaffing champagne with Rebekah Brooks in the run up to Christmas, Vince Cable was secretly recorded admitting he had ‘declared war on Rupert Murdoch’.

It is a dreadful, dreadful shame for all of those who want to see Murdoch’s power curbed that the honey trap set for Vince by a non-Murdoch newspaper was so effective.

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28 Comments

  • John Roffey 8th Jul '11 - 9:51am

    There is very little doubt that these revelations offer the LDs the hope of a new start – and better fortune.

    Shirley Williams was magnificent on QT last night – although I still think she s wrong about our membership of the EU.

  • Paul McKeown 8th Jul '11 - 11:51am

    @Caracatus

    I disagree. I think the Lib Dem policy on immigration was the only one which made sense at all.

    Reintroduction of exit controls.
    Police powers to the Border Agency.
    Regional allocation of immigrants.
    Rigorous checks on businesses and crackdown on rogue employers.
    Prioritisation of the deportation of criminals.
    One time regularisation of those illegal immigrants who have already been in Britain for more than ten years without engaging in criminal activity, only to apply to those with entry prior to 2010.
    Establishing an independent asylum organisation.
    Allowing asylum seekers to work whilst their claims are being processed, rather than doling out benefits to them.
    Ending child immigration.
    Use of tagging and stringent reporting requirements rather than incarceration, except where there are genuine fears of absconding.
    Ending deportation to countries where they would have genuine fears for their lives or liberty.

    Frankly, I supported all of the above and still do. The presentation was poor, the Tory press didn’t need an excuse to misrepresent it and Nick Clegg wasn’t prepared to defend the policies or to go on the attack regarding the policies of other parties during the debates, but instead he tried to avoid the issues, making him and the policies look dodgy.

    I still laugh with considerable cynicism whenever I hear Conservative spokesmen unable to state how many illegal immigrants are in the country, whenever asked to state how they will implement his or her party’s policy on deportation of all illegal immigrants. They know that the policy is impossible to implement as they know that they simply don’t know where the immigrants live and they know they haven’t a chance to find them, either.

    As for @John Roffey, I agree that Shirley Williams was magnificent, despite her age, she’s still all got her marbles and she’s still a good speaker. Incidentally, Hugh Grant was good too. I disagree about the EU; it is probably fair to say that the LIb Dems could state a stronger desire to see genuine reform (in SO many areas), but leaving the EU a la Jon Gaunt would be madness.

  • Why aren’t we shouting this from the rooftops. Only the Lib Dems tried to call an end to the march of Murdoch. The other two parties are guilty as hell.

    Come on Nick. Say something!

  • John Roffey 8th Jul '11 - 12:38pm

    @ R C

    I agree – the next few days will lay the foundation for the future. Any hesitation by NC in condemning, outright, the activities of Murdoch and insisting on root and branch reform, along with the most thorough of investigations, the stiffest penalties and the earliest of possible starts will create the suspicion that he is part of the gelded political class and Cameron’s puppet. However, if he applies ruthless zeal – the party’s fortunes could soar within months.

    @ Paul McKeown – yes, Hugh Grant was an excellent and invaluable contributor [is he a member yet?] and I think the EU debate can be left for another time – the current revelations need our full attention!

  • I have now complained twice to the BBC on their reporting on this matter. The BBC’s Chief Political Correspondent has twice implied that all political parties are guilty of sucking up to Murdoch. Robinson has never mentioned the fact that Vince demonstrated his opposition to the expansion of the Murdoch empire. I cannot understand why the Party is not complaining in the strongest terms to the BBC.

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Jul '11 - 2:55pm

    It was wrong to paint the last election as being all about “Cleggmania”. The rise in our opinion poll figures which his attributed to the first leaders debate was actually happening BEFORE that debate, and was due to activists gearing up and getting out their pre-election delivery. Clegg’s performance in the first debate was creditable, but not marvellous. Combined with LibDem literature coming through the letter-boxes, and it did remind people there was a third option, so there was a bit of a boom as people who had not really thought about it before started thinking about it.

    By wrongly putting this all down to Clegg’s performance, the scene was set for disappointment as it meant Clegg was watched more carefully in the later debates, and people saw very well he was ok, but not the wonder-man the inventing of “Cleggmania” made him out to be. Because he was being watched so closely and expectations had been built up too high, his faltering performance in the remaining debates was all the more painful. I remember watching them and actually shouting at him on the telly because he was missing so many obvious lines.

    The policy of the Conservative and Labour parties and their backers in the press has ALWAYS been to ignore us on the grounds the less they mention us the more people will think politics is a two-player game, but then if they really can’t ignore us, to rubbish us. Then they will dangle the prospect that they will be a bit more supportive and nice to us if only we move a bit more in their direction. Sadly, we have tended to believe them, do it, and find they treat us just the same. Through all my time in the party we have constantly been urged we must throw out what they tend to call “beard and sandals” things, and instead be more “professional”, by which they mean just like the other two parties, run by ad-men and PR people, with the Westminster bubble connections being the only things that matter. We have moved in that direction, it has never done us any good. I remember it all through the days of the SDP and the “alliance” – we were urged to go along with the SDP, to become more like them and less wild and provincial, to merge with them and stop being hairy old liberals, and all along the prospect was dangled we that if we did so we would get more positive press coverage. We did what they asked, we did not get better coverage. The reporting of the merer was similar to the reporting of AV – most of what the press put was extremely biased verging to complete lies. No-one would have guessed form what was written up that the merger want very smoothly in most places, the new Social and Liberal Democrats were set up and working smoothly almost from day 1. Our party almost went to 0% in the opinion polls then thanks to their lying coverage of this.

    Clegg in fact rose to power because he was Murdoch’s man. I don’t mean this in the sense of having made any arrangement with Murdoch, but from early on he was always painted as “the next leader” and portrayed as if he were hugely more able than any other contender. I believe this is because he was to the right of the party, smart set Westminster oriented, and rather naive and manipulable. Clegg led our party into the coalition as the Murdoch and other right-wing press were urging them to – making out the only sensible thing to do was to act as if they were almost merged with the Conservative Party which would bring us huge support as it would make us seem “sensible”.

    I do think our party needs some strong anti-establishment person leading it, someone with long experience of grassroots campaigning and credibility that comes from having led a life not so different from ordinary people. Nick Clegg is so easily misled because he does not have that background. Top public school, Oxbridge, easy route into employment in high finance due to family connections, early job with top politicians, from his first day in Parliament constantly promoted in media comment because of this background as the best person to be our next leader. I think Murdoch would have very easily twisted him and made him his man, as he did with Tony Blair, had Clegg emerged as more than leader of a very junior coalition partner.

  • Ibrahim Taguri 8th Jul '11 - 4:13pm

    I very rarely agree with James Percival but for once he’s right.

  • John Roffey 8th Jul '11 - 4:52pm

    There does seem to be a consensus that a significant portion of the Con/Lab political class will do all in their power to drag out the investigative process, thereby giving time for public opinion to subside – hence my comment at 1.

    If the Lib/Dems do not take a strong lead role in this, the likelihood is that Murdoch will be able to retreat into the shadows for that time, launch the Sun on Sunday before the next GE and be in virtually the same position to dictate to the government again.

    This is a very rare opportunity to retrieve UK government from the head of a global corporation, based in the US, and return it to the people – it would be a dreadful shame if the opportunity is lost.

  • @John Roffey: Any hesitation by NC in condemning, outright, the activities of Murdoch and insisting on root and branch reform, along with the most thorough of investigations, the stiffest penalties and the earliest of possible starts will create the suspicion that he is part of the gelded political class and Cameron’s puppet

    Clegg has been silent for days. He is still being silent. I don’t have any faith in Clegg to stand up for what is right. He seems to not do anything without Cameron’s approval.

    If you were in opposition now I bet LDs would be making very loud noises about Coulson and Brooks and their very close relationship with the PM. Two of his best friends are now alleged criminals. And your party is saying nothing openly about the company that the PM keeps? You never shut up about Alistair Campbell (and rightly so) when Kennedy was your leader.

    Shame that being in government and having the access to power has basically neutered your party.

  • John Roffey 8th Jul '11 - 5:55pm

    @ Squeedle – It’s not my Party now, I allowed my membership to lapse as I believed the Party was heading for obscurity and would remain there for a very long time – because of how the DC/NC relationship has developed.

    I am still convinced this will be the case if NC does not seize this opportunity to demonstrate the very clear differences between the Lib/Dems and the Tories. This is a rare and unexpected opportunity to recover the Party’s lost fortunes for activists the membership and for the people.

  • Mark Fredricks 8th Jul '11 - 9:48pm

    It’s a shame that Ed Miliband made all the running on this – precisely because he was outspoken and took a risk. It increasingly appears to me that some of those around Clegg (though I’m not sure who) are more interested in stopping rifts with their coalition partners than making sure the party genuinely does put clear water between us and the Tories.

    This is yet another example of us being too cautious in government, the radical spark that got us a wave of support in 2010 seems to have been supplanted by the type of Orange book radicalism that leaves Social Democrats like me (and the majority of those who used to support us) cold.

    In my view those at the top of the party have already missed the boat on this. Some serious questions need to be asked at conference about the priorities of some people at number 10 and decisions being made. Compromise is necessary but so is risk taking.

  • Bill Chapman 8th Jul '11 - 10:44pm

    It really is time for Nick Clegg to go if the Lib Dems are ever to gain a council (or Welsh Assembly) seat again. He looks lost, tired and short of ideas, while Shirley Williams is our bright young hope.

  • I am lifting some of my comment on Nick Clegg’s email which I feel may be appropriate here. Unfortunately, many in this party, perhaps understandably after the hard work they have put in, have little idea of how much more destructive is a sustained line of attack on us in the Sun or the Daily Mail than can be a counter effective, constructive, grass-roots “community based” campaign.
    As a distant but hugely toxic reminder, you only have took at how our votes fell away during the last election campaign, starting (ironically) with The Sunday Times headline that Nick Clegg was more popular than Jesus which they deliberately ran in the soon to be realised hope of deflating a 1st place poll lead at the time. (April 18, 2010.) A concerted attack, coordinated by George Osborne, was to puncture the LibDem balloon four days later and we have lived with the consequences of a diminished number of MPs ever since.
    The question now is whether we have the right people working in the press and communications team at this most crucial juncture. Have the recent appointments introduced one or two people who really understand how we can change some paper’s perception or is it just another round of musical chairs to be carried over to Great George Street.
    May I just remind Matthew Huntbach that his insistent claims of Nick Clegg’s stratospheric poll ratings prior to that first debate are incorrect, as has been demonstrated by data referred to by Mark Pack and referenced on two occasions both by Mark and myself.
    I think James Percival has brought a healthy dose of reality to LibDem Voice with this opinion piece so now is the time for a few LibDem “faces”, (Charles Kennedy or even Vince Cable if he’s up for it) to trumpet the moral high ground over the Murdoch issue and give the party a boost before the summer recess.

  • Our policy on immigration was certainly defensible -some tories had supported the report which led to it. the problem was the naiivity which led to it’s inclusion in our manifesto. The same naiivity which was carried into the coalition negotiations by the same people.

  • If we are to survive as a party at all, Nick Clegg has GOT to stand up and stop pussyfooting around!

    He was right to demand that there be a judge involved any investigative process. My understanding now is that there will be a judge involved. Good! Why is this not being shouted out?

    Nick is the DPM – he DOES NOT have to ask for DC’s permission for everything he wants to do and say. For goodness’ sake, let’s stop being on the back foot all the time! It’s time for us to be out there in the front leading the protest!

    Our Party needs to be totally divorced from any involvement with any of the press, of whatever shade or colour. We should not be dependent upon press approval or press backing. We need to be independent of all of them – they are unscrupulous, unethical and immoral and we should have nothing to do with them.

    If Nick does not want to or cannot make a stand against David Cameron instead of following him around and doing his every bidding, then it is time for him to step aside and let someone else take over and do it. My vote would be for Shirley Williams (as mentioned above) – she would stand no nonsense and will not let DC walk all over her!

  • John Roffey 9th Jul '11 - 6:12pm

    @ Rebekah: I don’t think anyone believes that NC has any fire in his belly and or that he will take any stand against DC – and he certainly won’t resign. Also, virtually all of those Lib/Dems holding government posts have been compromised in some way.

    All of the existing MPs must know that their careers at Westminster are likely to be over after the next GE unless someone makes a stand – and the longer it is left the less chance that this will be successful.

    I also think everyone knows any change will require a revolution. The question is – does anyone have the necessary fire in their bellies? Or will the Party descend into oblivion without a whimper?

  • Kirsten de Keyser 10th Jul '11 - 4:00pm

    @ John Roffey.
    Sounds as if you need to join the Social Liberal Forum http://socialliberal.net/

    Plenty of fire in their bellies – This from The Independent:
    A slice of Britain: Lib Dem guerrillas plot their next move
    The Social Liberal Forum, which triggered the party’s revolt against the NHS reforms, is made up of renegades with a mission. Matt Chorley joins the SLR at City University London
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/a-slice-of-britain-lib-dem-guerrillas-plot-their-next-move-2299731.html

  • david thorpe 11th Jul '11 - 2:29pm

    ‘ squeedle

    nick demanded cameron change the nhs reformbillcameron didnt approve that
    nick campiagned for a yes to av
    cameron didnt approve that

  • i dont think milliband was close to murdoch, “red ed” and all that.

    “nick demanded cameron change the nhs reformbill”
    yes but why did he approve it in the first place and vote it through the early stages????? i am very dissapointed

  • @Kirsten de Keyser

    I have already joined the Social Liberal Forum – it is to be left to us to do the work of the whole Party? Why are the rest of the Members not shouting along with us instead of poking fun at us? Are they all to lazy or too worried about how they will look in everyone else’s eyes I wonder?

    @John Roffey – you ask, “I also think everyone knows any change will require a revolution. The question is – does anyone have the necessary fire in their bellies? Or will the Party descend into oblivion without a whimper?”

    Not as long as there are some of us prepared to fight! We have to bring about the revolution. We have already been referred to guerrillas!

  • Rebekah – I have been shouting about taking a stand since the 2010 general election campaign was sabotaged. I didn’t notice any support from you then and there has been very little support on here for the few of us who have been commenting over the months on the consequences of the drip-drip effect of our trashing by the tabloids.

  • @Sean Blake – I am a regular contributor to this page so you have obviously not read any or many of the posts which I have written. You don’t know my circumstances and you have no right to accuse me of not giving support. I give support as and when I can and in whatever manner I am able. I do not have to justify myself to you or anyone else.

    How many posts have you put up since the General Election last year?

  • Leviticus18_23 13th Jul '11 - 2:25pm

    Because post counts are the best way to settle who is right or wrong…

    *sigh*…

  • It’s not necessarily the number of posts but their timing that I was alluding to, rebekkah; a point that seems to have been appreciated in the comment following yours.

  • @Sean Blake –

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