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The ‘Wilson Defence’ of collusion with Murdoch shames him

The idea that collusion with News International was entirely acceptable right up until the Milly Dowler phone hacking scandal is perhaps the weakest piece of self-justification in recent political memory

I really wanted to focus on the issue of young people in writing today – and I have here. But I just can’t pass the Murdoch issue completely because of the way the story in Scotland is being manufactured. So I must begin by reiterating my disgust at the way the First Minister wilfully disregarded the massively important issue of media diversity and reinforced the sense that politics is a game for rich people and the rest of us are just spectators. The ‘jobs defence’ is about as convincing as the Murdoch ‘nobody told me’ defence.

But to hear New Labour politicians like Brian Wilson suggesting that everything that happened before the Milly Dowler affair is now exempt from criticism because, apparently, Wilson and his colleagues didn’t realise Murdoch was a bad man is too rich for my blood. To quote Wilson from his Scotsman column today: “The idea that attitudes towards Murdoch pre and post-Milly Dowler should be judged by the same criteria is not credible”. Even though News of the World staff were jailed four years earlier for the same crime? Sorry, I’m afraid this defence of the actions of Wilson and the New Labour Government he was a part of is so flimsy that it makes the Salmond defence seem virtually credible.

Just to be clear, the reason Murdoch is a corrosive presence in public life has little to do with whose phone was hacked and very much to do with the way that he used financial and media ownership power to bend government to his will using a combination of stick (political blackmail – do as you’re told or we will dredge through your life) and carrot (do as we say and you’ll get nice editorials). Phone hacking is indicative but it is a sideshow. Could Brian Wilson cite one example – a single example – of where the Blair Government didn’t follow a policy agenda specifically beneficial to Murdoch’s commercial interest? Blair crawled to Murdoch for a decade but that’s OK because no-one knew he was doing bad things? Please don’t treat us as idiots. Tony Blair is godfather to one of Murdoch’s children, for god’s sake.

Salmond deserves what he gets over Murdoch – but not from a member of Tony Blair’s Government. When London Labour runs its own public inquiry and reveals all the communications from that government to News International and we find no collusion then a ‘we didn’t know’ defence might cut some mustard. Until then, mutual contrition might be a  more helpful position.

Robin McAlpine