It was a week to forget for everyone's favourite real-life Bond villain, Tory-supporting media magnate Rupert Murdoch, with sexism, phone-hacking and a new row with Ofcom.
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• It was a week to forget for everyone’s favourite real-life Bond villain, Tory-supporting media magnate Rupert Murdoch. Sexist Sky Sports journalists, the ramping up of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal and a new spat with Ofcom ensured a busy in-tray for the head of News Corp as he arrived in London this week – having cancelled his planned trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos.
According to his cronies, Murdoch is said to be “deeply depressed”, with Andrew Neil telling tonight’s Standard:
“He is very angry with his lieutenants in London. He thinks these rows have got out of hand, particularly the News of the World which should have been dealt with years ago. Although the phone-hacking and sexism rows are not directly linked to the BSkyB takeover, Rupert thinks they have poisoned the atmosphere with politicians and with Jeremy Hunt.”
A point made by Joy Johnson on LFF yesterday:
“Murdoch senior is locked in Wapping instead of the rarefied atmosphere of Davos; he must be furious, not only at the Ofcom decision, but phone hacking by his journalists, in pursuit of personality driven gossip, and exclusives to fill the pages of the News of the World.”
Though things could have been a lot worse for Murdoch, as:
“…Instead of referring the bid straight away to the Competition Commission Jeremy Hunt rolled over and gave Murdoch snr. and jnr. more time to make their case. As a senior shadow minister told me: ‘If Murdoch gets hold of yet more of the British media then heaven help those of us who believe in pluralist democracy.'”
Interesting, extraordianary, and changing times indeed.
• The main economic news was the poor growth figures, with the UK economy contracting again. GDP fell 0.5 per cent in the last quarter of 2010, following growth of 0.7 per cent in the previous quarter. The Chancellor sought to blame the snow for the fall, insisting the government “will not be blown off course”. His excuses, however, cut little ice, with opposition politicians, commentators and economists unconvinced.
Writing on Left Foot Forward, Labour’s Rachel Reeves said:
“Today’s dire GDP numbers show that the government’s reckless gamble with the economy risks plummeting the UK back in to recession… The government’s claims that the numbers are just because of snow is a complacent response that doesn’t do justice to the risk being taken with jobs and growth. For months Labour have argued that the government need a Plan B, that cuts while the recovery is so weak are reckless and that the VAT increase will make matters worse. Today has shown the gamble is not paying off…
“If there is to be a spring thaw in the economic numbers, then we need government to quickly get to grips with the economic realities, not stubbornly refusing to recognise the risks that austerity poses even when the data is put before their eyes. It will be up to Ed Miliband and Ed Balls to hold them to account and to put forward an alternative for jobs and growth.”
Also on LFF on Tuesday, senior economist at the new economics foundation James Meadway wrote:
“The coalition’s pretty tale is beginning to appear decidedly vapid. What’s seriously lacking is exactly as outgoing CBI director Richard Lambert said. The government has ‘yet to set out its vision of what a successfully growing economy would look like’ – it’s done little more than indicate a ‘few vague ideas’.
“A fairy-story does not provide a sense of direction. A lack of direction stokes uncertainty. Uncertainty cripples firms’ and households’ spending. Lambert wants firmer commitments to infrastructure like new airports and motorways. He has the right thought. But locking the UK into high-carbon spending is not going to reduce future uncertainty. A strategy for the economy needs to include policies to sustain decent, green jobs and deliver social justice. Managing without any strategy is a recipe for disaster.
“The economy isn’t sticking to the script. Will the coalition be forced to do a rewrite?”
• The week’s nternational news has been dominated by the breaking developments in Egypt and across the Middle East. Protests intestified this afternoon, with a ‘day of rage’ seeing ordinary Egyptians take to the streets, demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. In Suez, a protester was killed in clashes with the police. Seven people have died since the protests began on Tuesday, and up to 1,000 have been arrested.
The BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, who is in Suez, reports:
“There’s now a full-scale confrontation going on in the centre of Suez between riot police and several thousand protestors who’ve gathered again on the streets in the middle of the city. The Egyptian government has done everything it can to try to stop these protests from taking place again today.
“There’s no internet today in Egypt, the mobile phones here in Suez has been completely cut off, and in the state-run mosques here, the state imams told their congregations at Friday prayers not to go out into the streets again, but it hasn’t worked.”
While on LFF yesterday, Luke Bozier wrote:
“Protests started in earnest in Egypt, and they don’t appear to be calming down. Quite the opposite actually – the last two days has seen extensive and angry protests in Cairo, with Hosni Mubarak’s government reacting by temporarily shutting down access in the country to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. The internet is being used widely in Egypt to organise protests, as it was in Tunisia. On Tuesday the Twitter ‘hashtag’ #jan25 went viral, thousands of Tweets coming from the Cairo protest itself as well as observers around the world.
“It appears then, that history is repeating itself; the movement which led to Ben Ali’s downfall in Tunisia has inspired the frustrated masses in Egypt to take to the streets. Oppressed people in all Arab countries have started to shake off the fear – thanks to the Tunisian example – of their regimes. Whilst that pattern might be being repeated, so are the patterns in Western media and diplomatic circles; there’s been light coverage of the Egypt protests, despite once again lethal force being used against them by the Egyptian authorities. Again the Foreign Office ministers are quiet, too afraid to be seen as interfering perhaps, or afraid of what might arise in Egypt in Mubarak’s place.”
Progressive of the week:
Sir Paul Nurse, who made mincemeat out of the king of climate denier conspiracy theories James Delingpole on the BBC’s flagship science programme Horizon on Monday.
LFF’s Joss Garman takes up the story:
“Delingpole, who had just been attacking the use of consensus in science, was asked if he would submit to a consensus scientific opinion if he needed treating for cancer. Stumbling wildly, he eventually feebly tried to change the subject, saying: ‘Erm, shall we talk about climategate?’
“Having been (unusually) simply lost for words, later he says: ‘It is not my job to sit down and read peer-reviewed papers because I simply haven’t got the time, I haven’t got the scientific expertise… I am an interpreter of interpretation.’
“Perhaps the most beautiful thing about his embarrassing interview is that Sir Paul clearly didn’t try to set him up. Delingpole needed absolutely no help in making himself look stupid.”
Regressive of the week:
Homophobic Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips. In her latest rant, she rails against gay rights, defends the bigoted b&b owners who turned away a gay couple and indulges her readers’ paranoia about “a government-backed drive to promote the gay agenda”, which she says is “all part of the ruthless campaign by the gay rights lobby to destroy the very concept of normal sexual behaviour”.
She also leaps to the defence of Dr Hans-Christian Raabe, newly appointed to the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, a hardliner who, as LFF’s Matt Owen reported this week:
“…laments some of the side-effects of ‘the homosexual lifestyle‘, and spies – with what would appear to be trademark insight – ‘an overlap between the gay movement and the movement to make paedophilia acceptable’.”
Evidence of the week:
The number of unemployed graduates has doubled since the start of the recession, revealed new figures from the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday.
As the TUC’s Richard Exell wrote on LFF:
“…the graduate unemployment rate has increased by 75 per cent since the start of the recession (compared to a 50 per cent rise for the labour market generally). This underlines just how hard young people have been hit by the jobs crisis. We already knew that nearly one million young people are unemployed, and today’s figures underline this fact.
“They also underline the perversity of cutting funding for the Young Person’s Guarantee, which provided support to unemployed young people including graduates. The replacement announced yesterday – 8 weeks’ unpaid work experience – won’t help graduates because it is limited to people aged 18-21…
“Over the past few weeks we have seen university students mobilised by the great fees scandal, followed by school students angered by the abolition of Educational Maintenance Allowances. Perhaps graduates are next on the list of young people the coalition plans to turn their back on.”
Ed Jacobs’s Week outside Westminster:
Northern Ireland: In the week that a bomb was found in North Belfast, Ireland’s opposition Fine Gale leader, Enda Kenny, told the Alliance party’s annual conference that if elected he would do all in his power to confront and defeat the dissident threat in and from Northern Ireland.
“If there is one clear message that I want to send out from this conference today, it is this: if the people charge me with the responsibility of leading the next government, I pledge that that government will use every resource at its disposal to confront this threat.”
Meanwhile, Gerry Adams resigned from Parliament, to much laughter from David Cameron and his chums in the Commons, the prime minister telling MPs that Adams had been appointed “Baron of the Manor of Northstead” – yet it appears that Adams has done no such thing.
“Mr Cameron’s announcement that I have become Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead, wherever that is, is a bizarre development. I am sure the burghers of that Manor are as bemused as me. I have spoken to the prime minister’s private secretary today and he has apologised for today’s events.”
Scotland: In Scotland, campaigning for elections to Holyrood in May began in earnest, with Labour publishing a dossier of the SNP’s 100 broken promises. Speaking in Ayrshire, Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray declared:
“Soon Labour will publish our detailed plans for Scotland – plans for jobs and growth, plans to make sure Scotland can withstand the Tory threat to jobs and walk tall again.
“We start the next 100 days with momentum but no complacency. Labour is taking nothing for granted and will be fighting for every vote to win the trust of Scots again. To those who left Labour four years ago but still stand for Labour’s values, I say this: we learnt, we listened and we are ready to work hard for you again.”
For the SNP, meanwhile, first minister Alex Salmond sought to gloss over Labour’s attack, putting the NHS at the heart of his party’s campaign. He told those gathered in Edinburgh:
“Burns Day marks 100 days to Scotland’s election. Four years ago Scotland voted for an SNP government that is working for Scotland, freezing the council tax, cutting prescription charges, putting 1,000 more police on our streets, scrapping bridge tolls and protecting local health services.
“Over the next four years a re-elected SNP government working for Scotland will protect Scotland’s NHS, and increase resource spending in the NHS by more than £1 billion. With 100 days to go until Scotland’s election, the SNP has the record, the experience, and the ideas to protect Scotland’s progress and to take our nation forward.”
Wales: New polling showed good news for Labour, with support at 45 per cent, up 1 point since December and comparable with the 32.2% of the vote they received in the 2007 Assembly elections. The Lib Dems were on 7% and Plaid Cymru and the Tories on 21%. Support for full law-making powers for the Assembly also increased to 49%, up 3 points on last month. Just 26% of those polled said they would vote no.
Welsh Labour leader and first minister Carwyn Jones, meanwhile, came out in favour of using the Alternative Vote system for Assembly Elections. He told the Western Mail:
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“By bringing the AV referendum forward, it does beg the important question that if this change is good enough to elect Members of the House of Commons, then surely it’s good enough to elect Members of the Welsh Assembly too?
“If the AV referendum is carried on May 5th, I believe it would make sense to then re-examine the voting system in the Assembly.”
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