Vince Cable was heading for a fall once the party’s President Tim Farron MP began boasting (Any Questions, Radio 4 10.12.2010) that only the Liberal Democrats had the courage to “drag Rupert Murdoch in front of the broadcasting regulator Ofcom.”
Here was a party leadership intoxicated with their own propaganda, eager to make the point to their disaffected activists that unlike Tony Blair and David Cameron, Lib Dem coalition ministers had no intention of ingratiating themselves with the Murdoch press. Unfortunately as the London Evening Standard’s media commentator Chris Blackhurst asserts, the great British public ‘don’t care’ about the intricacies of media ownership and seem only interested in the range of products and services on offer. Given the impressive scale of Murdoch’s UK investment in printing presses and state-of-the-art television services, it will take a brave government to stand in his way. In the run-up to the 2010 general election Cameron went the extra mile to prize Murdoch’s support away from Gordon Brown and the Labour government. As Prime Minister, Cameron never misses the chance to dance to the Sun’s tune: in a signed article earlier this month he declared that the Sun’s honours for military bravery had become “Britain’s single most important awards ceremony” (15.12.2010); in the build-up to the autumn spending cuts, he launched the Sun’s hotline for exposing benefit scroungers (12.8.2010). With access to a platform like that in Britain’s biggest selling newspaper, Murdoch’s bid to take control of BSkyB is a shoo-in. Being forced to cede control over media take-overs – which has moved from Secretary of State for Business to Culture, Media and Sport – Vince Cable’s legacy is that he seems certain to have smoothed the path towards the further consolidation of the Murdoch’s UK media empire.