Tony Blair still divides Britons. His supporters are messianic. His opponentsare implacable. But watching their former Prime Minister testifyingto the Leveson Inquiry that is looking into the tangledrelationships between the U.K.'s press, police andpoliticians, the nation's viewers were briefly united in twoimpulses. The first was to adjust the color on their TV sets;like tree rings, the deepening shades of Blair's tan markpointed to each month spent roaming the world since he left DowningStreet in June 2007. |
And the second was to admit, howevergrudgingly, that he's left a hole in public life. Blair isthe last national leader to govern with great thumping majorities,the last to be vested with all the power a democracy can confer.Which is why everyone was agog to hear Blair explain why despiteall that power, he had so often appeared supplicant to anotherpowerful man: Rupert Murdoch . The discovery that phone-hacking was deployed as a journalistictool by Murdoch's Sunday tabloid the News of the World has led to serial revelations about politicians cozying up to thered-tops rather than seeking to rein in their excesses. Much of thefocus has been on the ties between the current Conservative-LiberalDemocrat coalition government and Murdoch's Britishinterests, including newspaper group News International and thesatellite broadcaster BSkyB.
That's hardly surprising. David Cameron , newly installed in Downing Street at the head of the coalition in2010, inadvertently sparked renewed interest in the scope of themisdeeds at the News of the World by hiring as his communications chief Andy Coulson, a formereditor of the paper on whose watch two men had been convicted threeyears earlier of hacking phones. (Coulson has always deniedknowledge of hacking; he was arrested by police investigatinghacking in 2011.) (More: Murdoch and Cameron Locked in a Death Spiral? ) And then there was the small matter of BSkyB. As News Corporationsought to increase its 39.1% stake in BSkyB to full ownership,Cameron transferred oversight of the bid process from Lib DemBusiness Secretary Vince Cable, who had been secretly tapedcriticizing Murdoch, to Conservative Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Evidence to the Leveson Inquiry last week revealed Hunt had expressed support for the bid in a private memoto Cameron before being appointed as its impartial arbiter.
TheCulture Secretary is scheduled to give his own version of events tothe inquiry on May 31 and with an overheated Westminster rumor millserving up stories, denied by Hunt's aides, that he plans toresign in some versions immediately after the hearing there's a greater sense of urgency to examiningMurdoch's influence on current office holders.
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