Monday, 11 July 2011

A Week is a Long Time in Print Media

Ed Miliband is politically at his most comfortable as the insurgent campaigner, taking on the vested interests of the establishment. The battle for the Labour leadership is good evidence of this. In the recent biography ‘Ed’, we learn of two incidents prior to this that shaped Ed Miliband’s political career. The first was over rent rises at University and the second was convincing the world’s Governments to come to some form of an agreement over climate change at Copenhagen.

In light of this, the BskyB takeover finds Miliband where he is most comfortable as a politician while also being in tune with the public. If he can build a head of steam and present Cameron as the agent of the cosy media establishment then he can do serious reputational damage to the Government.

It’s too early to say if this will have a lasting effect on David Cameron. His initial reaction, to try and spread the blame across the whole of Westminster, is a tacit admission that some damage to his reputation has been done. How bad and how lasting the damage is depends on what new information comes to light over the next few weeks and, unfortunately for Cameron, this is almost entirely outside of his control.

The police are already conducting a second investigation into the affair and Cameron himself has indicated that he will be launching two inquiries. While these can be seen as a way of kicking the issue into the long-grass, inquiries can result in a story running for longer, with the results of each endlessly replayed in the media.

Another challenge this week is the potential Parliamentary vote on Wednesday. Will Cameron really ask his MPs to vote against delaying Murdoch’s take-over of BskyB?

Even though a recent poll shows 70% of the public think it shouldn’t happen and the Lib-Dems and some Tory MPs’ support of Labour making the vote unwinnable anyway, it is still not certain Cameron will sidestep Miliband’s clearly marked elephant trap.

Though not the prize it was, the endorsement of The Sun at the next election is still worth something, hence Cameron’s slight hesitation in “declaring war” on Murdoch. Will he think the long-term gain worth the hit?

Some on the Labour side are already wondering if Ed was right to jump in with both feet. Accusations directed at former News International Journalist and director of communications, Tom Baldwin may muddy the waters in the Westminster Village. But unless something really significant comes to light – and remember we’ve already established the public really don’t care if the phones of celebrities and politicians were hacked – then I don’t think this is something that will really cut through into the public consciousness.

The danger for Ed is that this is all quickly forgotten over the next few months because one set of people who won’t forget are The Sun’s political journalists. One of whom recently tweeted; “NotW - RIP. A loss to 1st class journalism. Ed Miliband, Guardian and BBC; how proud you must be of your work this week”. Though this tweet has since been deleted and apologised for, clearly there are some on Fleet Street who wrongly view this as part of the on-going ideological battle in this country.

For Cameron the challenges are far greater, his staunchest allies in the media are currently less popular than Nick Clegg. Cut them adrift and you’ll partly neutralise the issue. Keep quiet and risk being painted as out of touch and retoxifying the Tory brand. No room for maneuver and little he can do but wait and see what the police find. The week ahead could help define the shape of the next election.

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