Two kinds of brave

by Rob Marchant

Steve Richards in the Independent – what seems like an age ago but in reality only last Thursday – defended yesterday’s Labour politicians from the easy criticism that they should have acted against Murdoch. Oh how Blair and Brown bowed and scraped, some are saying. Rubbish. They saw the world as it was, and they prioritised getting and maintaining a Labour government over dealing with a longer-term and mostly intractable problem, the risible regulatory framework which exists around the British media. As had all the other governments before them. Perhaps they shouldn’t have: but it is equally plausible to say that the opportunity to take on the empire just didn’t present itself. It has now.

And the game is changing so quickly, hour by hour, that it is safe to say that no-one, on any side of the debate, really knows how it’s going to end. The astonishing thing is that it could really be anything across a very broad spectrum, starting at dirty tricks bringing down a Labour leader or other key protagonists, and finishing at the other end with the fall of a government. For this reason, the British media has gone into headless-chicken mode and is looking on impotently.

Ed Miliband has done a first-class job in playing the hand he has been dealt. His Monday commons performance against Jeremy Hunt, for example, was well-planned and well-executed. Tony Blair said on Friday he has “shown leadership” and he is right.

Where the esteemed Mr Richards’ analysis falls down is in one phrase: “For the first time…Miliband could display authentic anger without fear of retribution from News International.”

So, you think News International is suddenly going to roll over and die after a few bad days in the press? Er, no. Even if the Armageddon scenario for Murdoch – a meltdown of his empire – is a possibility, it is by no means a guaranteed one at this point.

Murdoch is not, metaphorically, dead. He is wounded. We should not forget that. We might all be happy for Murdoch to disappear (again, metaphorically, I hasten to add). But this is wishful thinking: Sun Tzu says “kill or capture the enemy before he kills you”. If Murdoch lives to tell the tale, be in no doubt that he will take his revenge.

And so to Labour’s plan of action. Should Miliband act differently out of fear of reprisal? No. That would be a shirking of an historic duty as leader of the only party really placed to do anything. He has risen to the challenge. Murdoch has exercised too much power over our media for too long. Even sensible Tory democrats would admit that a monster has been created. Just look at how the Murdoch press has hounded that most endangered of species; the pro-European Tory.

Should he be cautious? Yes he should. In several ways, we may have already overplayed our hand.  Ed, deliberately linking phone hacking to the BSkyB takeover, and Tom, going for James Murdoch, upped the stakes, so that it has become a battle to the death. The real cause for concern, however is that we have made a strategic gamble which a number of previous governments have made: the whiter-than-white gamble. The precedents are not good. Major: Back to Basics; brown paper envelopes; fail. Blair: a new dawn; cash for honours; acquittal; score-draw. Brown: a new start after the culture of “superficiality and spin”; Donorgate, expenses; fail.

And this game is sure to get dirty. That faint rustling in the distance is dustbins being emptied. If those who have the most to lose find even the slightest evidence against Labour to link them with something in this scandal or even a completely different one, it will be ruthlessly exposed. All today’s hubris will vanish, and the only result will be abject cynicism with politicians, as happened with the expenses scandal.

What Ed has done is something brave, as Sam McCrory writes at e-Politix. He has, if you like, abandoned the over-cautious, please-everyone approach which has largely defined his leadership to date. This is a necessary condition of Labour getting elected. It is not a sufficient one.

But there are two kinds of brave. Brave, as in putting yourself on the line, making yourself a target for the greater good. Ghandi brave. Martin Luther King brave. And there is the other kind of brave: let’s call it Yes Minister brave. As in Sir Humphrey’s immortal “that would be a brave decision, Minister”, that is, reckless without meaning to be.

The problem is, we genuinely don’t know yet whether it is the first or the second. Taking risks is not a bad thing, it is part and parcel of politics, but you need to try and minimise them.  It is now highly likely that the events of the last week will come to define this opposition period and his leadership of it.

At this point, Ed, we must cast aside criticism and be behind you, because what you are doing is the right thing. But, my God, we also need to hope and pray it works out.

Number twenty-one red, please, croupier. Yes, the whole farm.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left


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11 Responses to “Two kinds of brave”

  1. GBN says:

    1) Ed did okay – certainly not the messiah this tries to paint him as
    2) Ed has now gone back to point scoring IMO
    3) Ed is accusing others of being in bed with NI whilst he cozied up with them
    4) If this is a potential PM, I hope it lands on number twenty

    Cameron doesn’t come out of this too well but I agree with the ITN poll last night that twice as many people trust Cameron to sort this out as do Miliband.

  2. @GBN: if you are implying this piece paints him as a messiah, that’s way off-beam. Regular readers of my Uncut pieces will know that, I have always criticised his actions where I believe them to be wrong (check out the other pieces above). Here I think he has done a good job.

    For information, your point 3 is wildly inaccurate in this case – you might accuse other Labour leaders, but he is pretty much the only leader of any party NOT to have been in bed with NI. He has barely met any of the players, which has actually been a weakness up till now.

    Re the ITN poll, must admit I think it’s not very relevant. Miliband has come from a pitiful poll rating which was never going to change overnight (we are one week in). The real issue is how polls are affected by the end of all this, whenever that may be. Cameron will have a real problem if Coulson is indicted, as looks quite likely.

    Btw Cameron, usually a very sure-footed politician in my opinion, has played his hand abysmally and may well end up with a real knock to his ratings if he continues to mismanage the crisis.

    Finally, given your Twitter handle is getlabourout, I’d hardly expect you to be full of praise for Miliband. I am a Labour member but try to be even-handed with both praise and criticism.

  3. Peter Benson says:

    Cameron doesn’t come out of this too well but I agree with the ITN poll last night that twice as many people trust Cameron to sort this out as do Miliband.

    Cameron has dirty hands and is damaged goods.He took on Coulson against many warnings.He has shown he lacks judgement if nothing else.I don,t think many people other than Tory Fanboys trust Cameron.

    At least Ed had the guts to come out against Murdoch while Cameron went into hiding waffling on about The Big Society.

    Which Big Society,the one that Rupert wants with Sky as his mouthpiece.

  4. John P Reid says:

    good article rob ,can’t fault it.

  5. AmberStar says:

    @ Rob

    I think this is the right kind of brave. Ed M was never going to get the Sun on his side anyway. It’s better for the voters to know it’s open warfare than to see Ed M sucking up to Murdoch & still getting slaughtered in the Sun because Andy & Rebekah are Cameron’s best friends.

    I’m hoping that Ed doesn’t overdo it though. He should give the Coulson angle a rest, unless he’s certain that Cameron lied to the HoC about not receiving the warnings.
    😎

  6. @Peter: I think we can all accept the results of the ITN poll: my point is that it’s not very relevant. The game is changing from hour to hour, and the only poll that really matters will be after the dust settles.

    I would not underestimate Cameron: he will be slightly tainted if Coulson is convicted, but at the end of the day all he did was hire someone. What *has* damaged Cameron has been his handling of the situation – basically going into hiding, which is very unstatesmanlike. Miliband, as my colleague Emma Burnell put it yesterday, “empty-chaired” him brilliantly.

    In the end his handling of the mess may be more damaging than Coulson. Unless, of course, proof is found that he knew about Coulson’s activities at the time, but this I doubt very much indeed.

  7. @John: Thanks.

    @AmberStar: “Ed M was never going to get the Sun on his side anyway” – I think this is a completely incorrect reading of how the politics/media relationship works. There is no reason why he should not get the Sun onside: Tony Blair managed it, by looking like he was going to win. The Sun simply backs winners, simple as that. Once this is all over, he will still need to demonstrate to the Sun (or whatever is the media pack leader) that he is going to win.

    Re which kind of brave it is: well, the jury’s still out, I’m afraid. It depends on how the cards fall in the next few weeks. It’s certainly a high-risk strategy: it basically depends on the wholesale self-destruction of News International. Plus, it’s important to remember that the parent, NewsCorp, has got huge assets (Fox, NY Times, Star TV) *outside* the UK which are likely to be unaffected by all this. Unless NewsCorp itself folds, they will get back into the UK market, even if the Sun, Times etc. were to fold in the meantime.

  8. @AmberStar: prompted by this discussion, there is now a follow-up post at The Centre Left showing exactly what proportion of NewsCorp assets the papers represent. It ain’t much.

  9. AmberStar says:

    @ Rob

    How you love to argue with me. 😉 If I said black, you’d say white.

    The entire NI team were not best mates with John Major, so Tony Blair did not face the uphill struggle that Ed Miliband would’ve faced to get any decent coverage from NI.

    With hindsight, you must admit that Ed has fairly shaken things up. Rupert Murdoch is now desperately trying to protect his family’s position in the wider News Corp business; every day which passes makes it look less likely he’ll succeed.
    😎

  10. AmberStar says:

    I enjoyed the Center Left piece, BTW.

    “He [Murdoch] really is the feudal king of all he surveys, as long as the shareholders are kept happy.”

    But they were not happy, Rob & this has given them an opening for an attack on Rupert & James Murdoch.

    You also say that Murdoch will try to ring fence his US interests – which would’ve been the smart thing to do. But that ship had already sailed when he made Hinton the CEO of the Dow Jones Group (which owns the Wall Street Journal). Murdoch himself established a link between NI’s Uk interests & its US ones. And now Hinton has had to resign.

    Also, Rupert couldn’t resist publishing his opinion of Gordon Brown’s speech in the Wall Street Journal, thus drawing attention to the HoC debate & motion – A story which Murdoch should’ve tried to play down in the US.

    There are also a few ambitious execs in News Corp who rather fancy Rupert’s job & don’t see why James should inherit it. Ed M has given them an opening & believe me, they’ll take it.

    Tom Watson & Chris Bryant set this up but Ed Miliband pushed the first domino at exactly the right moment to send them all crashing down… I’m sure you must admire Ed’s timing, even if you won’t give him kudos for bravery.
    😎

  11. Glad you liked the Centre Left piece. No, I have been giving Ed much credit for his handling. And so far – amazingly – the gamble has paid off, so I’m delighted. The real test will be the next few days. Whether Murdoch Sr. can survive, and whether NewsCorp will be a different animal afterwards are key questions, as yet both unresolved. So maybe he will come out as brave in the end – good. But it ain’t over yet.

    And even if News International is destroyed, as comrade Hodges has pointed out, to the British people this is not as much of an obsession as it is in Westminster. They care a lot more about economic recovery. In a month’s time, Ed will still need to be making the running against Cameron, and all the basic policy questions – as yet a blank sheet – will still need to be answered.

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