Saturday, 10 March 2012
Tak a long spoon…
Tom Watson MP was at the Glasgow Libraries' Book Festival, 'Aye Write' last night. He was talking about his long (and at times scary) campaign to expose the over powerful ‘Sir’ Rupert Murdoch, and his media empire, News International.
He came across as a generally sincere and likable backbencher, with principles. One of which was that the closeness of the Murdoch media with politicians and the police bordered (!) on corruption. As a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee - he loves films and football! - he took a particular interest in the media. He had also had previous experiences with the Murdoch press, who have doorstepped him, put a private eye on to follow him, raked about in his (and his neighbours) dustbins regularly, and (by admission from a News International journalist) had Rebekah Brooks out to get him, since he resigned as a Defence Minister and ‘damaged her Tony’.
His presentation last night was a lesson in warnings for Alex Salmond. Apart from the admissions of illegal payments to the police, hacking into news subject’s phones on an ‘industrial scale’ and muckraking journalism, he believes that News International had become too powerful in terms of media ownership in the UK, and that Prime Minister after Prime Minister either courted or went in fear of Murdoch.
The fact that he includes in this litany everyone from Margaret Thatcher onwards, and does not spare his own party leaders means, I think, that his warning to Alex Salmond last night (and again in todays Daily Record column) should be taken very seriously. He admits to having admired Salmond and his aptitude to ‘tell the truth to power’. He said he was very surprised that Salmond leapt straight into private meetings with ‘Sir’ Rupert, as one Scottish Government communication erroneously called him. Writing a tribute to the launch of the ‘Sun on Sunday’ in its first issue and allowing the paper to ‘scoop’ the referendum date have tied the first minister into the News International octopus as surely as Andy Coulson’s appointment has done with David Cameron.
It will come back to haunt him. Unlike David Cameron, Alex Salmond’s snuggle up to the old media fox, comes at a time when his papers are under a number of criminal investigations - one by Strathclyde Police. It is in the middle of the Leveson inquiry, which is showing signs of probing even deeper; and a variety of other groups are asking queries about whether the Murdoch clan in general are ‘fit and proper people’ to run media companies.
Should the results of the Leveson Inquiry and/or the corruption inquiries prove to be as damaging as they could be, then the mealy-mouthed excuses of the First Minister’s spokesperson that it is ‘all about jobs’, will be exposed as dangerous delusion. It already seems that it is more likely all about getting the Murdoch media to give Eck their support, as Rupert (I can’t help remembering Denis Potter’s name for his tumour) casts about for some damage to do to the British state that has (finally) turned on him. As Tom Watson said ‘One thing’s for sure, Murdoch is not doing this for the good of Scotland or the Scottish people.’
It is slightly surprising that an experienced campaigner like Salmond (and even more so the SNP media machine that surrounds him) would go down the same road as Blair and Cameron before him. Especially after the experiences of those associations. But he does have previous in cosying up to tycoons. Rupert Murdoch, however, is not Brian Souter or even Donald Trump. Tak’ a long spoon? I suggest a ten foot tarry bargepole might be more appropriate.