Has it really been worth it, Miliband?

Ed Miliband has played politics with the News of the World scandal. But when the wounded News Intl beast lashes out - he'll be on the receiving end.

Miliband makes demands of News International
Dylan Sharpe
On 9 July 2011 12:29

Is it a calculated risk or a fatal error?

No, not Rupert Murdoch's decision to close the News of the World; nor David Cameron's to stand by his appointment of Andy Coulson; but Ed Miliband's decision to call for the head ofRebekah Brooks.

"Where's the risk?" you might ask. "The forces of right and the general public are on his side, Ed's taking the lead and the voters will reward him for it." But is this week's tumultuous news really that big outside the precious Westminster village many of you reading this article inhabit?

The disgraceful revelations that journalists hacked the phones of murdered schoolchildren and bereaved families will have permeated the consciousness of many voters. But taking a few anecdotal conversations with people who couldn't pick Jeremy Hunt out of a line-up, and aren't chronically addicted to Twitter, I have found that the reaction hasn't been one of overwhelming hostility to News Int, but a general resignation that all hacks are at it. 

I might be focus grouping the wrong people, but I have found the response to be something akin to Rio Ferdinand's extra-marital affairs or Amy Winehouse's latest inebriated live performance: no surprises.

Now I should add that I am in no way trying to downplay this week's events. The closure of a national institution like the News of the World has shaken British politics, and the media that follows it, to the core. But no one can yet be sure of its long term effects on the general public. Although the salacious elements will be remembered, the names of those responsible could be forgotten remarkably quickly.

But while voters often have short memories, newspaper proprietors tend to be better at holding a grudge. Despite the best efforts of the Guardian/Labour Party, news of the death of Rupert Murdoch's British media empire seem to be wildly exaggerated. 

From the Times stable, to the Sun, to BSkyB television; Murdoch still holds a voice and an influence almost unparalleled in the British media (although the BBC Trust runs it close). This empire needs to be cuddled, charmed and pandered-to if a political party is to curry favour and a party leader to keep his head above water. Blair knew this when he addressed a conference of News International executives before the 1997 election; and Miliband knew this when he put a similar event in his diary earlier this year.

I imagine that event is still in Ed's diary, but his speech certainly won't have the effect he had hoped when the invite was originally accepted. This week a newspaper folded and the leader of the Labour Party tried to position himself as the politician who stood beside the forces of decency that called for its demise. 

But the News of the World was one arm of a far bigger, albeit wounded, beast. If it lashes out at those who have attacked it, it will do so with the intention of striking a killer blow.

So Ed, has it been worth it?

Dylan Sharpe is Head of Media Relations for the Countryside Alliance and the former Head of Press for the NO to AV campaign.

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