Belfast Telegraph

The Murdoch empire

From the beginning, a reasonably positive outcome for Rupert Murdoch was inevitable.

Even when Vince Cable was the minister responsible for making the final decision on Murdoch's bid for BSkyB, there was only going to be one winner.

Last December, Cable told two journalists, posing as constituents, that he had "declared war on Murdoch".

The war was more one-sided than Cable probably realised. When his words appeared in public, he was removed from the battlefield.

But Murdoch would have prevailed in some form had Cable managed to stay.

However distant they claim to be over decisions relating to ownership, governments make life as convivial as possible for the mighty media owner.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown went out of their way to do so. On the whole, David Cameron and his Chancellor, George Osborne, also receive supportive coverage from Murdoch's newspapers.

They would not go out of their way to alienate him - even though the conduct of journalists working for those papers is being questioned.

Cameron and Osborne are not alone: Ed Miliband is not going to go out of his way to make an enemy of this powerful empire.

But this tame political dynamic is the reason why an extension of Murdoch's empire in Britain is unhealthy.

Already, political leaders kneel at his altar. Now the altar will almost certainly grow in size.

The dynamic distorts British politics in a way that is still underestimated, propelling the political culture Right-wards.

With good cause, Alastair Campbell's deputy, Lance Price, described Murdoch as "the most influential figure on Blair's government after Gordon Brown".

That influence on Labour continues. As Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt pointed out in the Commons last week, Labour huffed and puffed, but didn't come out against the Sky deal.

A leaked memo from Miliband's media guru, Tom Baldwin, argued that Labour should not go out of its way to antagonise Murdoch.

The argument is sound. As Cable would have discovered, there are battles that mere politicians cannot win.

The outcome under Hunt's stewardship was more subtle than some of Murdoch's critics had feared.

But the extension of the media owner's sweep will mean the unhealthy dynamic continues.

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