Timing, they say is everything. That certainly applies to the Competition Commission’s recommendation that BSkyB be ordered to bring its stake in ITV (down from 17.9% to at least 7.5 %). John Hutton, Labour’s Secretary of State for Business and Enterprise, must have wondered how an angry porcupine had landed in his lap.

Rupert Murdoch (effectively owner of BSkyB as well as the likes of the Sun The Times and the Parson’s Gazette a.k.a. The News of the World) and his son James who is emerging as heir apparent to the Murdoch empire, will be spitting tacks this morning. Not only has this lost them several hundre million pounds but it will remove their effective block on ITV ending up in the hands of a rival of which Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin/NTL cable outfit remains the most likely.

There can be no doubt that Murdoch has played a significant role in British politics, notwithstanding that he is, for these purposes, an Alien national. The Sun pitched hard for the Tories in 1992 and later claimed that it had won the election for John Major. Since the mid-1990s Murdoch has shifted the group’s allegiance to Labour. The cynic might well think that he is careful to choose the winner of each election so as to ensure favourable treatment of his empire by the regulatory authorities.

Which is why the Competition Commission’s recommendation must have come as a wholly unwelcome addition to the burden of Hutton’s office. If he had not acted on this matter, which most right minded people will think was a quite deliberate attempt so stifle incipient competition, his party would look to all the world as if it was taking the sleazebag option, a perception that Labour does not exactly need to add to just at the moment.

The alternative was therefore to bite the bullet and follow the recommendation. The consequence of that, however, is almost certain to be a lengthy and complex court case as the Murdochs seek to overturn the ruling as well as inflaming them against Labour with the result that the Sun, The Times et al may well go out to bat at the next general election for David Cameron. Since Labour reckon that having the BSkyB group as hostile outsiders is very bad for their election prospects, many of them will be dismayed at today’s ruling.

David Cameron on the other hand must be hoping that nobody probes his views on the matter too deeply for he would love to go into the 2009/2010 election with Murdoch rooting for him as that might make a significant difference for the Tories, perhaps even between a hung Parliament and having a working majority, at which point the Murdoch bill for services rendered to the Conservatives will become due.

Which raises the whole business of whether the likes of Murdoch, who gave up any formal link to the UK when he took his carpet-bag from Australia to the USA (because, it is said, of restrictions there on non-nationals being involved in majority ownership of the media) many years ago. Thus one is entitled to ask why we continue to allow someone who is (a) hostile to our system of government (he is a notorious Republican and his papers have at times been very hostile to the Monarchy); (b) interferes with our electoral process; and (c) acts in a highly uncompetitive manner within the media market; and (d) is not a British national (and thus not entitled to participate in UK politics) is allowed to control such a large section of our media.

That said, he redeems himself somewhat on his fairly anti-EU views. It is said son James is fervently anti-EU. That might, for me, be the deal breaker. If the Murdoch media can be swung firmly and vociferously against the EU then I would be minded to consider that is so much in the national interest that it outweighs the disadvantages I have noted above by a country mile. That would at least be a counter-point to the perfervid support by the BBC of all things European and would turn me rapidly into a pragmatist on this issue.

It will be interesting to see how Murdoch reacts to the loss of the stake and some serious money. Labour may well find itself blasted. One hopes that Murdoch might start with some more trenchant and outspoken opposition to the EU in which the Times and Sunday Times now become more overtly anti-EU.

Perhaps, though, Labour has already discounted Murdoch and the Sun for 2009 and is looking to give its new chum, Sir Richard Branson, who was given a recent opportunity to cosy up to our dishonest and dissembling Prime Minister when the latter took Branson on his trip to China (when, quite coincidentally, of course, Brown came up with the latest wheeze to hand over Northern Rock to Branson’s control at a knock-down price), a chance to become a Labour Luvvie instead, just in time to go down with the sinking ship.

COMMENT THREAD

Advertisements