Sunday, 10 July 2011

Holier than thou

I was recently described as having a "holier than thou" attitude by a Labour acquaintance of mine over the phone hacking scandal and, more broadly, the intertwined relationship of the Murdoch empire and politicians.

And, in fairness, I, and most other Lib Dems, probably do have such an attitude over phone hacking - we're certainly feeling rather smug about it.

But I would (and did) argue that we have every right to have that attitude. We're the only party that didn't court Murdoch or drop everything to pay homage when he called a conference (as Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Ed Miliband have all done) and we're the only party that has consistently argued against Murdoch's influence over the media and politics.

But more than that, our people have been absolutely on the ball about this. After the very first enquiry only found two people responsible and overlooked masses of evidence of more illegal phone hacking, Chris Huhne criticised the outcome and warned that the Met needed to explain why it hadn't conducted a thorough investigation. Then, when the coalition was formed, the senior Lib Dem statesmen and former party leader Paddy Ashdown warned Cameron not to hire Andy Coulson as the Number 10 communications director. Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne repeated the warning but David Cameron ignored their advice. And then we had the Telegraph undercover reporters who revealed that Vince Cable had been determined to refer Murdoch's BSkyB takeover bid to the independent regulator Ofcom.

And since the revelations have become apparent we have had dozens of senior Lib Dems (including Nick Clegg) speaking out about the matter. Two of the more important things said are Nick Clegg's description of the Press Complaints Commission as a "busted flush", which indicates long standing Lib Dem support for replacing it with an independent, statutory regulator, and Chris Huhne's assertion (where he was probably acting under orders from Nick Clegg) that the Lib Dems would back Labour if they tried to force the BSkyB takeover decision to be referred to the regulator - with the proviso that Labour don't make it about political point scoring.

In short, when it comes to Murdoch and News International, the Lib Dems are the only party that has always, and consistently, made the right calls. And this is essentially because of the deep-seated liberal principle that unaccountable concentrations of power and influence (of the type that Murdoch embodies) should always be opposed and tackled head on.

So on this, if we appear to be thinking that we are holier-than-thou, then that's because we are.

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