When your back is against the wall and you are forced to make tough choices,
your real motives shine through. That is why this last week, a bad one for David Cameron and his Government
by any standards, has left me asking this question: Who does he really serve? There was grim news on Wednesday for millions of families when we heard how
Britain’s economy, which two years ago was recovering strongly, has now slid
back into recession.
The Conservative-led Government had told us all, time and again, how they
would change things. But prices are still going up faster than wages, more than a million
young people are now left on the dole and the banks are still paying out
huge bonuses. So much for Mr Cameron’s boasts last year that he had taken the economy out
of the danger zone. We now know that even as George Osborne was asking millions to pay more so
that he could cut taxes for millionaires in the Budget, the British economy was
sinking into a double-dip recession.
The elderly, squeezed by his new tax on pensioners, are now being squeezed
again by his recession. The young, more than a million of them out of work, are now looking for a
job in the middle of his recession. And working families, being forced to pay more while the wealthiest pay
less, are now finding life even tougher during his recession. It does not have to be this way. In the United States, President Obama has
dealt with America’s debts at the same time as boosting jobs and helping
working families. The US economy is growing and unemployment is falling. Our Government,
desperately out of touch with the needs of the British people, should look
across the Atlantic and learn.
What this last week has revealed is a
Government not serving the hard-working people of this country, but bending
over backwards – and bending the rules – for the rich and powerful.
But it’s not just in the economy where David Cameron is failing to serve the
interests of the people. This last week we discovered more about the Government’s dealings with
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. At first sight, it is an issue which seems remote for families and
businesses. But it is linked to what is happening in our economy. An economy that is not working for working people is a direct consequence of
a political system dangerously skewed towards the interests of a tiny minority. It is why we end up with a Government which is so out of touch that it
chooses to prioritise the wealthy and powerful over the interests of everyone
What this last week has revealed is a Government not serving the hard-
working people of this country, but bending over backwards – and bending the
rules – for the rich and powerful. Just like the tax cuts for millionaires, paid for by taxing everyone else
more, we now know that instead of making decisions in the interests of the
public, the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt allowed a secret back-channel to be
established providing confidential information, advice and assistance to News
Corporation in its bid to secure Rupert Murdoch’s biggest ever deal: the
£8 billion takeover of BSkyB.
It is scandalous that the Minister remains in his job today. Mr Hunt’s defence seems to be that he had no idea what his chief adviser was
doing in hundreds of emails, phone calls and meetings over a six-month period
on the single most important issue facing his department. If he really was so clueless then he should not be in his job anyway.
The Prime Minister has shown weakness throughout this affair. He was weak in failing to act swiftly and decisively when the phone-hacking
scandal broke last summer. And he has been weak in dealing with this latest scandal. Mr Cameron,
perhaps fearing the spotlight will turn back on to his own dealings with the
Murdochs, has decided to leave Mr Hunt twisting in the wind. He even refuses to allow an investigation by the man appointed by him to
ensure there would be ‘independent’ enforcement of ministerial rules.You do not need to wonder too hard why he made that decision.
Mr Cameron is very good at lecturing other people about their
responsibilities. He tells families they must pay higher taxes, lose their
child benefit and work harder before taking their pensions. But when the moment comes for him to show responsibility, he miserably fails
the test.I want to repeat the call I have been making on him since last summer: the
Prime Minister must finally come clean on all his dealings with the Murdochs
and Rebekah Brooks. This full disclosure must include each and every instance in which he
discussed the BSkyB bid, as well as details of the role played by his own
advisers such as Andy Coulson. Anything less and people will conclude Mr Cameron has something to hide.
am making a similar call on Mr Osborne to explain his role in this affair. We now know from evidence submitted to the Leveson Inquiry that the
Chancellor was lobbied personally by James Murdoch and that his special adviser
discussed the BSkyB bid with News Corporation executives. Mr Cameron has tried to push all such matters back on the Leveson Inquiry.
But Lord Justice Leveson has rightly pointed out that enforcing ministerial
rules is not a matter for him. This session of Parliament is expected to end on Tuesday and now Lord
Justice Leveson has made his ruling we will be demanding the Government comes
to the Commons before then and offers the people of Britain an explanation. David Cameron must not use Parliament rising as an excuse for ducking his
responsibilities to enforce the ministerial code.
I know some of you reading this will probably be thinking that none of us
can be trusted. The reason is that for too long under successive governments, Britain has
felt like a country in which those at the very top get their way and everyone
else gets left behind. We need successful wealth creators and entrepreneurs.
I hope the Leveson Inquiry comes up with
recommendations about how we can prevent those same kind of concentrations of
media power which helped cause abuses in the industry.
But what ultimately damages our economy is power held by a small number of
people who seem to think they are too big to fail or too powerful to be
challenged – no matter how they act. That is true of executives in News Corporation. And, while I do not believe
Labour ever tried to do anything like Jeremy Hunt did, we were too close to
Rupert Murdoch. I sought to change that last summer by speaking out against the BSkyB deal
and demanding the Leveson Inquiry be established into the phone-hacking scandal
and the relationship of the press with politics. We need responsibility at every level of society and a free press plays a
crucial role in holding politicians to account.
But I hope the Leveson Inquiry comes up with recommendations about how we
can prevent those same kind of concentrations of media power which helped cause
abuses in the industry. We must also change an economy where bankers get bonuses but small
businesses cannot get loans and young people cannot find work, where
electricity firms rake in record profits but rip off the elderly, where
executive pay soars upwards but that of everyone else gets frozen. When too many people think political influence and policy can be purchased
by super-rich benefactors, it is right to say we should take the big money out
of politics by banning any donation from individuals over £5,000. That should apply to donations from trade unions as much as from rich
If we are going to change our economy, we have to change the way we conduct
politics. Any government is bound to make its share of mistakes, but from the Budget
to the cash-for-access scandal and from the recession to Murdoch, the events of
the last few weeks show this Government’s true colours. They are a direct consequence of being out of touch with the many and in
touch with only a privileged few. On the BSkyB affair, instead of running for cover or hiding behind Lord
Justice Leveson, David Cameron’s arrogant Government should come to the House
of Commons and account for its actions.
The television license fee should be made optional, with as many adults
as wished to pay it at any given address free to do so, including those who did
not own a television set but who greatly valued, for example, Radio Four. The
Trustees would then be elected by and from among the license-payers. Candidates
would have to be sufficiently independent to qualify in principle for the
remuneration panels of their local authorities. Each license-payer would vote
for one, with the top two elected. The electoral areas would be Scotland,
Wales, Northern Ireland, and each of the nine English regions. The Chairman
would be appointed by the relevant Secretary of State, with the approval of the
relevant Select Committee. And the term of office would be four years.
would not need to be a member of the Trust (i.e., a license-payer) to listen to
or watch the BBC, just as one does not need to be a member of the National
Trust to visit its properties, or a member of the Royal National Lifeboat
Institution to be rescued by its boats. That model could certainly be applied
to everything from the Press Complaints Commission to the Human Fertilisation
and Embryology Authority, and arguably even to the Supreme Court, although in
that case with only one candidate per region elected and with a vacancy arising
only when a sitting member retired or died.
We need to ban any person or other interest from owning or controlling
more than one national daily newspaper, or more than one daily newspaper
covering the same region or locality. To ban any person or other interest from
owning or controlling more than one national weekly newspaper, or more than one
weekly newspaper covering the same region or locality. To ban any person or
other interest from owning or controlling more than one television station. To
re-regionalise ITV under a combination of municipal and mutual ownership. And
to apply that same model to Channel Four, but with central government replacing
local government, subject to the strictest possible parliamentary scrutiny.
The above model for the election of the BBC Trustees should be extended
to the new Independent National Directors of Sky News, who should come into
being entirely regardless of the ownership structure of BSkyB. Each Sky
subscriber, or other adult who was registered to vote at an address with a Sky
subscription and who chose to participate, would vote for one candidate. The
requisite number would be elected at the end. Ideally, their Chairman,
appointed by the Secretary of State with the approval of the Select Committee,
would be Vince Cable. In any event, and not least in view of cross-subsidy,
they might usefully double up as the hitherto most ineffective Independent
National Directors of The Times and
the Sunday Times. Alternatively, and
perhaps preferably, the subscribers to those newspapers would by the same means
elect their Independent National Directors.
Those two loss-making newspapers
exist because the rules were bent double so that Rupert Murdoch could buy them
in order, to his credit, to fund them out of his profitable interests. So they
ought to be required to maintain balance. The publications granted
parliamentary lobby access should be required to be balanced among themselves,
even if not necessarily within themselves. Broadcasters having such access
should be required to give regular airtime to all newspapers enjoying the same