Seumas Milne writes:
The Tory operation to bury the phone-hacking scandal in spin and official inquiries is now in full flow. On his way back from Africa, David Cameron declared it was essential to get the whole business into perspective, echoing Rupert Murdoch’s insistence that his competitors had got up “this hysteria”. Today, the prime minister chided Ed Miliband for “chasing conspiracy theories” and claimed it was really Gordon Brown who had been in the pocket of the global media billionaire.
Meanwhile, News International pundits and others with their own reasons to stem the flood of revelations have been loudly insisting that the political clout of Murdoch’s corporate colossus has been exaggerated. The hyper-regulated BBC is the real media monopoly, they say, and in any case the current fixation with phone hacking has meant no one is discussing bankers’ bonuses and the threat of another financial meltdown. This is a “frenzy that has grown out of control”, the Daily Mail complained.
But the real frenzy isn’t the exposure of the scandal – it’s the scale of corruption, collusion and cover-up between News International, politicians and police that the scandal has revealed. As the cast of hacking victims, blaggers and blackmailers has lengthened, and the details of the incestuous payments and job-swapping between News International, government and Scotland Yard become more complex, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture that is now emerging.
If it were not for the uncovering of this cesspit, the Cameron government would be preparing to nod through the outright takeover of BSkyB by News International, taking its dominance of Britain’s media and political world into Silvio Berlusconi territory. But what has been exposed now goes well beyond the hacking of murder victims and dead soldiers’ families – or even the media itself. The scandal has lifted the lid on how power is really exercised in 21st-century Britain – in which the unreformed City and its bankers play a central part.
Murdoch’s overweening political influence has long been recognised, from well before Tony Blair flew to Australia in 1995 to pay public homage at his corporate court. What has been less well understood is how close-up and personal the pressure exerted by his organisation has been throughout public life. The fear that those who crossed him would be given the full tabloid treatment over their personal misdemeanours, real or imagined, has proved to be a powerful Mafia-like racket.