Opinion: Cameron should be as ruthless as Murdoch‏

In shutting the News of the World, the Murdochs have shown themselves to be ruthless. Their ruthlessness changed the story, although it has not killed it.

David Cameron needs to be as ruthless. So long as the Murdochs have a powerful media presence, his hiring of Andy Coulson and his closeness to Rebekah Brooks are real issues. The retoxification of the Tory party is underway.

Cameron should announce that he was lied to by Coulson, and that the level of rot can only have happened if people at the top were not managing the paper properly. It was Brooks and the Murdochs’ job to know how their reporters got their scoops: whether they actually knew about the phone tapping and corrupt payments to the Police is irrelevant.

Cameron should state his view that they are not fit and proper people to hold any form of media licence, and that he has written to OFCOM accordingly. The bid for BSkyB would be dead. He should also announce that the government will place no advertising in any Murdoch paper from now on, and call on other advertisers to do likewise.

He should then announce an immediate ban on all Murdoch staff from all government press conferences, and state that no government minister will grant interviews, brief or take calls from any part of the Murdoch Press. He should challenge Labour to do likewise. They could hardly refuse.

Murdoch is a global player, and there comes a point when it is simply not worth his staying in Britain. He would be angry, very angry, but today Cameron holds more cards than Murdoch. The Sun is hardly going to back Milliband in revenge. In any case the evidence that the Sun and other papers sways voters is very slim indeed. The Sun would either limp on under Murdoch ownership, fold, or be sold. There is a market for a right-wing red top, and no doubt in some form the market will supply that. Cameron need not worry about his coverage in the medium term.

This strategy would undercut Cameron’s opponents, reassert his primacy in the news cycle, win him plaudits from all other papers (including the Mail, which is important in Tory circles), and turn a retoxification event into a detoxification event. Of course it would involve Cameron admitting a mistake in hiring Coulson, but that is already obvious to everyone, and he can blame Coulson for lying to him.

So Mr Cameron, are you as ruthless as Mr Murdoch?

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19 Comments

  • I agree the government should be ruthless but I do wonder if barring news international papers from press conferences and briefing, could be interpreted, or is, obstructing free press? It just immediately doesn’t sit well with me as an idea. I think the Journos at the Times, Sun should be able to continue to do their jobs even if News International are being heavily investigated. Removing government advertising, not buying and crucially admitting he was at best ‘lied’ to by AC and adding weight to the recommendations to OFCOM about ‘fit and proper persons’ test are all thing that should be done immediately though!

  • No. Completely wrong. WE should be ruthless with the Tories and with Cameron.

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Jul '11 - 2:03pm

    Hmm, we have this partnership between THE Sun and the News of the World, where the NOTW has a different label for long historical reasons, but it’s kind of annoying that it exists, and it would be much more convenient to have a 7-day Sun, so close down the NOTW and …

    I don’t think we should be pushing too hard for the ruthless closing down of the smaller partner in business or other arrangements …

  • Well yes RC, I think that is another issue that has been missed. Our party should be more ruthless and forthright in hammering home that both Labour and Tories were happy to play in the News International rotten play pen and that we weren’t. That we should be leading the ideas for what form the new press complaints commission should look like and taking the position that we don’t believe that News Corp is a fit and proper person to take over BSKYB. We should have been leading the way on this and I think that given Nick’s answers on tuesday, when the story first started to break, it seems he is still taking cues from Cameron. This is wrong and if I was him, I’d be calling him firstly to do above, because if Cameron holds more cards then Murdoch, then Nick surely, probably for the first time since this damed coalition was formed holds more cards then the both of them.

  • I think cynical rather than ruthless would be a more appropriate description of your recommendations.
    What if Coulson did not lie to Cameron? Should he still announce that he did?

  • Your advice is spot on, Tim, but I’d rather it was addressed to Nick Clegg – I don’t give a toss about Cameron’s reputation (and anyway distancing himself from Coulson now after just calling him a ‘friend’ would look opportunistic).

    It would also be nice if someone said that Vince was right to declare war on the Murdoch empire, even if the manner of his declaration was foolish in the extreme…

  • The shutting down of the News of the World is more of an act of cowardice than ruthlessness.

  • Julian Astle 8th Jul '11 - 4:37pm

    And the Times? Would you want to ban all of their (usually very good) political journalists as well?

  • Nick Clegg has played an incredidibly strong hand incredibly poorly this week. And I write AFTER his Friday statement about the PCC. After so much promise 14 months ago, what a damp squib he is turning out to be in Government. He has had only one major victory so far, over the NHS reforms, and he had to be bullied into achieving that by Conference. Must do better.

  • Keith Browning 8th Jul '11 - 10:00pm

    I’m not sure that Cameron will still be around by Xmas.

    Now we hear he is another who claims not to have been told vital information by his most trusted right hand man.

    That is not credible. The trail of incredulity is becoming longer by the hour.

    I understand Fox News in US have failed to pick up on any of this. That in itself makes NI an unfit company to run a news organisation.

  • Philip Young 9th Jul '11 - 5:03am

    Er, wouldn’t this make things a bit difficult, no impossible, for the Labour leader? His chief press officer and personal aide also came from News Interntional, same as Coulson.

  • @Tim Leunig ” In any case the evidence that the Sun and other papers sways voters is very slim indeed.”
    Together with his suggestion that Murdoch staff should be banned from all press conferences, the above statement shows the author of this piece to be living in a fantasy world.
    Luckily there is a grounded article by James Percival, published on the same day, which begins to acknowledge the Sun (and Mail) effect when it comes to elections.

  • It is time for Nick Clegg to start being assertive! If he doesn’t do this, we will all be tarred with the same brush!

    Yes – Vince was right all along about Murdoch (given the other difficulties). He was right about the banks even before we went into Coalition.

    The BSkyB deal must be called off! Now!

    We need to see evidence of there being a much more ethical and moral stance in journalism and in Politics. We are not going to come out of this unscathed.

    We need to distance ourselves even more from the Conservatives, even though we are in a Coalition. We are being tainted by their goings-on and it has to stop.

    You only have to read The Guardian “Westminster Digested” items for this past week to see exactly what the attitude to Nick Clegg is.

    He has to stop being the “Fall Guy” for the Cons and their machinations! Please, Nick, stand up to everything and everybody and be assertive!

  • Anthony Dunn 9th Jul '11 - 4:56pm

    Tim,

    After hearing Tim Farron kick into touch the BBC R4 “PM” programme’s Eddie Mair’s suggestion that Nick Clegg was culpable because Cameron hired Coulson (Alan Rusbridger said he’s spoken to both Clegg and Cameron about Coulson before the election last year), perhaps it’s about time that Nick Clegg got aggressive and made a statement setting out the suggestions you’ve made above. I’ve no conceivable interest in detoxifying the Tories. What I AM interested in is OUR setting the media agenda and garnering as much credit as possible for getting the Murdoch’s out of our media and politics.

    That we are coalition partners does not, for one moment, prevent Clegg delivering a public slap down to Cameron over the latter’s complete mishandling of this issue. It would also go a long way towards giving the Tories a substantial dose of “pay back” for their disgraceful, deceitful and disingenuous conduct during the AV referendum. The Tories need to be reminded (and brutally if needs be) that there are costs to such behaviour.

  • Chris Riley 9th Jul '11 - 6:07pm

    @Philip Young

    It would make it pretty tough for Cabinet as well, as Tim seems to be suggesting nobody in Government be allowed to speak to the Education Minister, who, last time I checked, has been working for Murdoch for the last 15 years.

    I would humbly suggest this suggestion needs a little work.

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