Ed’s learning: he’s done a Dave over Murdoch

by Stephen Tall on July 10, 2011

Credit where it’s due, fair’s fair, and well-played.

As Paul Walter noted here on LDV on Wednesday, Labour leader Ed Miliband is having a good war, sticking up for clear and proper principles — a judge-led public inquiry, referring News International’s BSkyB bid to the Competition Commission, and the public call for the resignation of Rebekah Brooks — that resound well with the public.

By contrast, David Cameron is on the back-foot over the unravelling scandal at News International, compromised both by having hired former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his director of communciations (despite warnings), as well as by his friendship with Rebekah Brooks and and the influential ‘Chipping Norton set’, described here by Peter Oborne.

The parallels with the MPs’ expenses scandal are clear enough. First, the Establishment is once again in hot water for protecting its own: much of the media, the police and Parliament turned a blind eye to mounting evidence of systematic criminality because everyone was too damned implicated at one level or another by the web of deceit that’s been spun.

And secondly, the politician who wins will be the one who successfully projects the image of the ‘leader of change’. David Cameron had personally to repay expenses as a result of the Telegraph’s original revelations — £680, including a bill for clearing wisteria from his chimney — yet it was he (with Nick Clegg) who more effectively led the popular call for reform, and forced Gordon Brown onto the defensive, though Mr Brown’s expenses were above board.

Ed Miliband has been carefully cultivating his links with Rupert Murdoch. There were he and Ed Balls at the News International summer party a couple of weeks ago. Who did he hire as his communications chief? Tom Baldwin, a senior Times journalist who it was hoped would build bridges with the Murdoch empire. And, of course, Labour under Tony Blair made determined efforts always to stay on the right side of The Sun.

Yet, with admirable shamelessness, it is Ed Miliband who is making the running on this issue — arguing that the Prime Minister “doesn’t get” the need for change — just as David Cameron left Gordon Brown trailing in his wake over expenses. I’m not sure the Labour leader is ever going to be capable of that journalistic cliche, ‘capturing the public’s imagination’. His public persona seems almost irretrievably lakclusre to me. But he is expressing public opinion coherently, and that may just count for more than Dave’s wobbly vagueness.