UK phone-hacking: Miliband gains upper hand

Last Updated: Sunday, July 31, 2011 - 17:23

London: The leadership of both
Conservative and Labour parties have been tarnished by their
`too cosy` relationship with Rupert Murdoch, but one winner
from the imbroglio is clearly Ed Miliband, who has come into
his own from a shaky start as the leader of the Labour party.

Published details of meetings with Murdoch and his
aides by both parties since the 2010 elections shows how close
the relationship was, until the phone-hacking row blew up and
forced them to withdraw from the Murdoch embrace at least in
public.

Until recently, Miliband, who took over as the Labour
leader after the party lost the 2010 election, was seen as a
political lightweight who was easily vanquished in the Prime
Minister`s Question Time. But not anymore.

It is too early to say that Miliband`s newly-gained
political inches will translate into his party victory in the
2015 elections, but he has clearly reached a stage where his
new leadership of the party is now taken more seriously.

Quick to seize the initiative and exploit the
advantage of being in the opposition, Miliband turned the
screws on Prime Minister David Cameron who was already in the
dock for his proximity to Murdoch, whose titles openly
supported the Conservative party before the elections.

Miliband is now credited with forcing the Cameron
government to move against Murdoch on the controversial BSkyB
takeover bid.

As the phone-hacking row spiralled into a major issue,
Miliband proposed a House of Commons motion asking Murdoch to
drop the bid, a motion that Cameron was forced to support.

Besides, while Cameron was away on a truncated visit
to Africa, Miliband demanded a special session of the House of
Commons, which was also accepted by the government, and saw
Cameron being repeatedly grilled throughout the day-long
debate.

Inside and outside parliament, Miliband succeeded in
piling the pressure on Cameron even though the Labour party
has been as much in bed with the Murdochs as the Conservative.

In the process, Miliband has managed to build a public
perception that Cameron and his party were more at fault for
being `too cosy` with Murdochs than he and the Labour party.

The timing of the phone-hacking row also helped Miliband,
whose leadership enjoyed shaky support within the party.

But by being on the ball on Cameron`s being slow off
the mark in moving against Murdoch, Miliband put the Premier
on the defensive, including on the controversy over hiring
Andy Coulson as his head of communications.

Miliband was quick to admit that his party was also
too close to Murdoch during the 13 years it was in power, and
has indicated that there will be a clean break with the
Murdochs in future.

He also allowed his party MPs, Tom Watson and Chris
Bryant, free rein to raise the phone-hacking issue inside and
outside parliament.

Meanwhile, in another salvo against Cameron, the
Labour party today said he and his party must "come clean"
over their dealings with the Murdoch family.

The party has sent letters to Cabinet ministers,
containing more than 50 questions it claims have still not
been addressed by the coalition.

The party wants to know what discussions key ministers
had with the Murdochs about their attempt to take full control
of BSkyB.

Cameron has been asked to reveal "the dates, nature
and content of the discussions" he had with James or Rupert
Murdoch as well as ex-News International chief executive
Rebekah Brooks about the deal.

Shadow culture secretary Ivan Lewis said: "The signs
are that David Cameron still does not get it. A tangled web of
their own making will not go away until they and their cabinet
colleagues give full and frank answers to legitimate
questions".

PTI

First Published: Sunday, July 31, 2011 - 17:23
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