Friday, 30 September 2011

For the Love of Murdoch, Tony Blair, Carillion & Kieran Quinn:

The Cultivation of Anxiety in Political Leadership
by Brian Bamford

The deals that our political leaders strike-up with powerful forces and outside interests has now been brought into focus on the international, national and local stage by the relationships struck by Tony Blair in Libya with Gadaffi, and earlier with Rupert Murdoch and the Sun newspaper, and now locally in Ashton-under-Lyne between Councillor Kieran Quinn (Labour leader of Tameside Council) and the construction company Carillion, accused by some of blacklisting trade unionists in Ashton-under-Lyne and elsewhere in the UK.

TONY BLAIR'S autobiography 'A Journey' is more revealing than I at first realised and it is noticeable that he has had less to say than Gordon Brown on the recent Murdoch and the News International phone hacking case. On page 96 of this June's paperback edition of his autobiography he writes of his troubled time between 1995 and 1997 as he determined to modernise the Labour Party to achieve 'reconnection' with the British public: 'Members of the Shadow Cabinet would frequently say: "Come on, enough, we are miles ahead".' And, Blair says: 'Each time they said it, I would get hyper-anxious, determined not for a single instant to stop the modernising drive.'

In his very next paragraph, Blair gives away one of the solutions to his political anxieties when he writes: 'In June 1995 we had further outraged sensibilities by accepting an invitation conveyed through the editor of The Times, Peter Stothard, to address Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation conference on Hayman Island, Australia, the next month.' Blair justifies this arguing: '... as I said to Alistair (Campbell), not to go was to say (to Murdoch) carry on and do your worst, and we knew their worst was very bad indeed.' Former Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, had suffered the headline 'Nightmare on Kinnock Street' and, as Mathew Parrish said recently, not doing business with Murdoch 'had not done John Major much good'. Blair concluded that either 'you sat down to sup; or not. So we did.'

Do media bosses, like Murdoch, influence elections? It seems here that political leaders, like Blair, think that they do and that was why he went to Hayman Island to see Murdoch. Based on his reading on the evidence in a recent American study by the U.S. Economists Jesse Shapiro and Matthew Gentzkow, Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist in the Financial Times [FT] claims: 'Media barons tell us what we want to hear'. And yet, even if media bosses don't determine elections, if people like Blair mistakenly think they do then may not this in itself influence the political decisions our leaders take? Thus, even if Murdoch is just historically better at backing political winners than at changing the public's mind, he still had serious political clout in the corridors of power because most politicians feared him, as Blair evidently did, according to his autobiography.

The FT's Tim Harford writes: 'The most disturbing aspect of the phone-hacking scandal, it seems to me, is the reluctance of politicians to challenge Murdoch's empire, and in particular its cosy relationship with the police.' This kind of interference in politics is not confined to Murdoch and the media barons, Gillian Tett, the FT's U.S. Managing business editor, in her book 'Fool's Gold' about the bankers, has written of the recent crisis how the bank J.P. Morgan had 'in the early years of the twenty-first century ... watched with awe and envy as (rival bank) Goldman Sachs extended its tentacles into politics and government, often via its powerful network of alumni.' Ms. Tett wrote: 'J.P.Morgan now planned to emulate that strategy'. It set up its own 'alumni' society and began cultivating political allies and she says: ' J.P. Morgan guests nibbled on canapes in the Piano Bar, Al Gore, an adviser to the bank, could be seen mingling in the crowds ... So could Tony Blair, another well-paid adviser.' Business is just politics by other means.

What of Tony Blair's crucial 1995 meeting on the Hayman Island with Rupert Murdoch at which Blair gave a speech? Blair writes of this thus: 'The speech ... went down well ... I could see the executives were in awe (and a little fearful) of Rupert.' Murdoch had introduced Blair 'in glowing terms' and the executives 'all rallied', and Blair says: '... I could fell we were in with a chance of winning the Sun's support.' I would rank this occasion as a kind of 'love test'! In effect, on Hayman Island in 1995, Tony Blair was being invited to declare his love for Rupert Murdoch before the assembled executives in the same way as Shakespeare's King Lear in the play of the same name demanded of his three daughters the love for which he was to be the sole recipient. Only King Lear's youngest daughter, Cordelia, denies him his request and is disinherited. Lear simply wants to divide his kingdom between his three daughters and for this he wants their declaration of' 'true' love. His youngest daughter Cordelia alone denies him this rather than be hypocritical. Murdoch, it seems to me, offered to share his power with Blair and was blessed with Blair's compliance. We do not know what would have occurred if Blair had followed the example of Cordelia rather than the older daughters Goneril and Regan, who understood that Lear required hypocritical proclamations of their love and gushing flattery. Tony Blair writes in his autobiography: 'The speech on Hayman Island went down well.' Or as Gremio in The Taming of the Shrew says: 'To give thee all, and in his waning age / Set foot under thy table' (II,I).

It was not only Tony Blair who got his feet under Rupert Murdoch's table; Margaret Thatcher before him had been there and Gordon Brown, despite his recent attack on Murdoch in the House of Commons, was to follow Blair in his entanglement with Murdoch; in the event only John Major was to play the role of Cordelia when he became Tory Prime Minister. In the recent phone-hacking scandal affecting Murdoch, Tony Blair has been remarkably quiet, unlike Brown and Ed Milliband.

What we are now seeing is the end of a political maintenance agreement. Hence, MPs have cottoned-on to the idea that they are in a looking-glass world and, as Tim Harford writes: 'When once it was politically dangerous not to bend the knee to Murdoch, suddenly it was politically dangerous not to stand up to him instead - and standing up to Murdoch is presumably a lot more fun to boot.' In truth, between the politicians there was no binding 'maintenance agreement' with Murdoch; only a series of love tests conducted over the last few decades between the likes of Thatcher, Blair, Brown and Cameron and the media mogul.

Stephen Greenblatt, the American literary critic and promoter of something called the 'New Historicism', in his essay 'The Cultivation of Anxiety: King Lear & His Heirs' writes: '(King) Lear speaks as if he had actually drawn up a maintenance agreement between Lear and his daughters ... [but] there is no maintenance agreement between Lear and his daughters;' and thus at the end of the play the two older daughters let Lear down. Just as with Lear, so it has been with Rupert Murdoch and the British politicians who had sworn their love: there had been no binding maintenance agreements between Rupert and the politicians but just opportunist hypocrisy and false declarations of 'love' as our MPs turn on Murdoch and even his dearest 'daughter', ethical Rebeka, has had to be cast aside.

But this problem is now systemic in British politics and in the Labour Party, thus even at a local level in Town Councils, companies seem to have come to control politics through unhealthy relationships with councillors: just as it was with Blair, Murdoch and Gadaffi in the national and international arena, so it seems to be with firms like Carillion and Council leader Kieran Quinn in Ashton-under-Lyne and the area that now goes under the name Tameside. In his autobiography, Blair muses about his relationship with Murdoch thus: '... I had a friend called Faust and he cut a deal with some bloke called Satan' ('A Journey', page 97). Over a decade ago, people had some misgivings about the long-term leader of Tameside MBC, Roy Oldham, when he began the transfer of council housing to an arms-length company - New Charter Housing Limited - but the man who oversaw this large-scale transfer was none other than the current Council leader, Keiran Quinn. Councillor Quinn did this knowing that the trade unions were opposed to the policy and he referred to opponents of the scheme, such as the then Lib-Dem councillor Peter Wright as being 'people who live on the margins of society'. Councillor Quinn declares himself to be a sturdy trade unionist, a member of the CWU, and he has successfully sought the help of Tameside TUC for support for post office pickets. Our sources in the Council suggest that Councillor Quinn is very much in favour of privatisation, except when it affects his own trade union at the Post Office.

These days all politicians be they Blair, Brown, Cameron, Roy Oldham or just Keiran Quinn seem to seek some agreement with the likes of powerful forces such as Murdoch or Carillion, which is only the temporary bond of hypocritical 'love' that King Lear embraced they all have what Stephen Greenblatt describes: 'the terror of being turned out of doors or becoming a stranger even in one's own house; ... the dread, particularly strong in a society that adhered to the principle of gerontological hierarchy, of being surplanted by the young.' As I write this I am aware that the global company Carillion was yesterday accused in the Tameside Reporter of being linked to 'The Consulting Association' and the Information Commissioner is quoted as saying: 'Information recovered from the Consulting Association's premises indicated that at some point in time there had been a relationship between Carillion and the Consulting Association.' The Consulting Association has now been closed down following one of its managers pleading guilty to keeping an illegal data base or 'blacklist'. Yet Carillion, while admitting that the Consulting Association operated 'blacklisting services', still denies it was a member. Kieran Quinn, who is yet to reply to a request from Tameside TUC that he should justify the awarding of Council contracts to a company like Carillion, was not able to make a response in time for yesterday's Tameside Reporter. A red-faced Councillor Quinn, after sucking-up to Carillion, must now be feeling like Tony Blair does about his relationship with Murdoch and Gadaffi.


Northern Voices 13 is priced £2.20 [post & package included] or £4.20 for the next two issues cheque payable to 'Northern Voices' from:

c/o 52, Todmorden Road,
Lancashire. BB10 4AH.
Tel.: 0161 793 5122.

No comments: