Had I put £1000 on a Tory Parliamentary majority in March, when the odds of that outcome were rated as low as 100-1, I'd have made £100,000. Had I then placed my winnings on Jeremy Corbyn to win the Labour Party leadership at the start of the contest, when he was a 200-1 outsider, I would have found myself on 12 September with £20 million. But I didn’t: Cameron and Corbyn's victories may have made someone a fortune, but it wasn't me. Those two elections have another winner, someone who has run no campaign but has recently returned to a position of power after four years away from the job. No prizes, no bets on who that is:
National teams haven’t raced in the Tour de France since 1961, when pressure from bicycle makers led to a return of the trade teams. But that hasn't held back the patriotic cheering for Bradley Wiggins, the first Briton to win the Tour in its 109-year history. Chris Hoy has called his victory ‘the greatest individual achievement in the history of British sport’, though Wiggins owes a fair amount to his team mates: winning the Tour is both a cumulative and a collective achievement. Unlike Hoy – who with his freakishly powerful body looks as if he could have excelled in any number of sports – Wiggins seems to have been born to be a cyclist. His father was a professional rider, nicknamed ‘the doc’ by his peers because he used to smuggle amphetamines to races in his son’s nappies, and Bradley was brought up watching the Tour. ‘It's what I’ve dreamed of for 20 years,’ he said yesterday.
I'm not sure this is more urgent than the destruction of the NHS, or the latest recession (remember sherbet dips at primary school? It makes it hard to quail at the notion of the double dip), but I couldn't take my eyes off this week's magnates and moguls parade at the Leveson Inquiry.
There's nothing even remotely surprising about the Cruddas 'bluster', or the fact of Cameron's 'kitchen suppers'(the latest thing in cool dining) for top Tory party donors. Though the class aspect is a bit interesting. Peter Cruddas was offered the post of Tory party co-treasurer in June 2011, taking over from David Rowland, and sharing with Lord Fink, both high-level donors themselves who have both been present at dinners chez Sam and Dave. But, although Peter Cruddas's donation of £382,451 in (you guessed it) 2011 is well over the Premier League sum of £250,000 requirement for intimate invitations, Cruddas, unlike Fink and Rowland was not, as Cameron has carefully pointed out, one of the boys shooting the breeze around the prime minister's kitchen table.
'This is the most humble day of my life,' Rupert Murdoch said after trying to avoid attending and before failing to give satisfactory answers to the Leveson Committee on 19 July last year. It was very probably true, at least in so far as he appears to have entirely ditched humility since that day, or moment. In January, Murdoch opened a Twitter account. For those of you not following him – why aren't you following him? – here's a taste of what you are missing. He does global politics, international finance, domestic UK and US policy on education and welfare, and jokes. Here's a joke from 19 February: 'Miracles do happen! Sun shining in London.' The sun was shining, it was a lovely day. But the following day Murdoch announced the launch of the Sun on Sunday. See? What a tease.
In all democratic societies the relations between politicians and the press are close and problematic. But in Britain those relations developed earlier than anywhere else; earlier even than in the United States or France. Britain was the first society to develop a mass urban industrial working class and industrial-commercial middle class. Its newspapers were a consequence of this, and some, like the News of the World or the Daily Mirror, had circulations without equal in the world. In such circumstances it was inevitable that the political class and the newspaper-owning class – who were often, as in the case of Lord Beaverbrook, the same people – would become intimate, since both thought the press a uniquely powerful instrument of persuasion.
Writing in the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland compares events in and around the Murdoch empire – with ‘around’ including Westminster and New Scotland Yard – to the Danish crime series The Killing. I applaud the in-your-face Guardian-ness of Freedland’s analogy, but it seems to me that James Ellroy has a stronger claim than Søren Sveistrup to have pre-scripted Wapping Confidential. It’s partly a matter of the strongly noir-ish overtones to the Murdochs’ performances in front of the select committee on Tuesday, with James’s eerie mid-Atlantic/Pacific voice giving him the air of an Australian actor channelling Kevin Spacey as a serial killer, and Rupert evoking John Huston in Chinatown by way of Clive James. But there are similarities of plot and motif as well.
Worried about careless thinking in all the euphoria yesterday at the shuddering on his plinth of Rupert Murdoch, the undersung Labour MP Graham Allen underlined the problem of volume of ownership, calling for 'a proper legal framework, as well as clarity about how many news and media outlets that one person, or one organisation, can own. Until you resolve those questions in six months time we could be back in exactly the same position.' Murdoch already owns too many newspapers and too much of BSkyB. A law forbidding anyone, directly or through nominees, to hold more than a fixed, low percentage of any or all media would build a barrier against invincibility. Belief in Murdoch's invincibility produced Blair's speech of flatbelly abjection before News Corp employees at Hayman Island in 1995.
As The Ballad of Reading Gaol says, all men kill the thing they love. Well, up to a point. Rupert Murdoch may have had a soft spot for the News of the World, but it’s as nothing to his amour propre and love of the power born of wealth. Murdoch knows that the papers now are good at best for pin money. The real aim is to fireproof NewsCorp’s global brand, ensuring that its big airtime account-holders don’t take fright. Then there’s the the BSkyB merger, which, after the consultation period ends today, can hardly go through on the nod, even if Sky News is ‘spun off’. A few hundred workers on a UK rag – 168-year history and all – are, as Hyman Roth says in The Godfather II, small potatoes.
The essential moral of Hans Christian Andersen’s story ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ for people who live in a modern western democracy is that when the laughing stops, the emperor is still the emperor. Indeed, he is more powerful for having allowed himself to be laughed at. As for the small boy who pointed out his nakedness, he can deal with him later. In his new title sequence for The Simpsons, already shown in the US and due to air in Britain on 21 October, the graffiti artist Banksy tracks away from the Simpson family on its suburban Springfield sofa to show a subterranean Asian sweatshop making Simpsons merchandise. A child dips images of Bart into a vat of acid, kittens are pulped to make stuffing for Bart dolls, the tongue of a beheaded dolphin licks envelopes, an enslaved panda hauls a cart, an exhausted, broken unicorn punches holes in DVDs.