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When Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced this week the date for the UK general election, the US press hardly batted an eyelid. While the US election was followed closely by many people in Britain and indeed the rest of the world, the UK election—scheduled for May 6—is unlikely to invoke the same reaction globally. Nevertheless, this election is one that may matter for Americans more than they care to imagine.

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In The U.S., Rupert Murdoch is best known as the Australian owner of the Fox Broadcasting Company, the parent company of Fox News through which the mogul directs media marionettes such as Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly. Hard as it may be to imagine, Murdoch wields even greater power on the other side of the Atlantic as he revels in the role of ‘decider’ in UK politics. As owner of newspapers such as The Sun and The Times, as well as Sky television, Murdoch has never shied away from politicians’ plaudits and often uses his influence to a worrying degree.

The Sun, as Britain’s most-read newspaper, has long served as the tabloid bludgeon with which Murdoch beats politicians into submission. This was evidenced last week when the newspaper carried out a characteristically contemptible attack on Prime Minister Gordon Brown, formally ending the newspaper and Murdoch’s love affair with the Labour Party. Brown was lambasted as “Bloody Shameful” having handwritten a letter of condolence to the mother of a British soldier killed in Afghanistan. His crime was to have misspelled the name of the soldier in question, which led The Sun to mount its moral high horse and illogically conclude that he was “disrespecting our war dead.” More shameful still was Brown’s reaction, with the UK leader telephoning Murdoch to beg for better treatment.

Brown’s snivelling sycophancy is part of a disturbing trend where politicians cuddle up to Murdoch and his minions in a bid to gain favorable coverage. The Sun’s political zenith came in 1992, when it campaigned tirelessly for the sluggish Conservative Party and was credited by many pundits  for winning the election for then-leader John Major. The Sun’s influence was so unrestrained that, following a policy disagreement, its editor had the impudence to tell Prime Minister Major that he was going to pour “a large bucket of shit” over his head. Tony Blair quickly realized the extent of Murdoch’s power and courted the Australian prior to his 1997 election. The Sun consequently changed sides and supported the Labour Party through Blair’s ten years at the top. In exchange, Blair’s government developed policies in sync with The Sun’s editorial line. One example occurred in August 2003 when The Sun printed a full week of coverage dedicated to criticizing asylum-seekers. One of Blair’s top ministers, David Blunkett, subsequently wrote an article for the paper supporting The Sun’s stance. It later transpired that the campaign was the result of a co-ordinated effort between The Sun and the Government.

Unfortunately for the Labour Party and Gordon Brown, the Conservatives under David Cameron have successfully wooed Murdoch and friends, with The Sun annoucing its switch the day after Brown delivered a major speech at his own party’s conference. Combine the Sun’s headlines with Brown’s disastrous premiership and the Labour Party are destined for a mammoth loss at next year’s general election. Yet as Murdoch and his cronies begin to use their leverage over the new Conservative government, it is British democracy that stands to be the real loser.

Michael Collins, November 2009


August 2020

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