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Archives for July 2011

Daily View: What are the implications of second Greek bailout?

Clare Spencer | 09:40 UK time, Friday, 22 July 2011

Euro sign

 

Commentators ask what the implications of the second European bailout for Greece could be.

The Daily Mail's editorial describes the bailout as a short-term solution:

"Described by some observers as 'a selective default', the deal buys a little time but does nothing to tackle the underlying crisis within the euro.
 
"This is that the weaker countries - because they don't have the option of devaluing their currencies - continue to slip deeper and deeper into debt with scant hope of redemption."

The Economist's Schumpeter columnist also complains that the solution is temporary:

"At best, Europe has won a breathing-space. But so much can still go wrong, not least in Greece, whose chances of getting on top of its towering debt without a much bigger restructuring still look remote. By going for a modest restructuring now (which will also include a small programme of debt buybacks) European leaders will find it harder to impose a more stringent one in the future, leaving European taxpayers footing even more of the bill if Greece can't get its debt under control."

The Times editorial says the bailout still leaves the eurozone countries with a choice:

"The escalating debt crisis has left the 17 countries that belong to the euro with a momentous decision. Do they continue to apply financial sticking plasters to the problem, making it more likely that the single currency will eventually disintegrate with potentially devastating consequences for the European economy? Or do they find a long-term cure - do Germany and France agree to put their financial might behind the debts of weaker members in return for some control over their tax and spending policies?
 
"The choice is politically fraught and it has taken months of dithering for eurozone leaders to agree the shape of the latest bit of plaster. Both options involve big risks. But one thing is clear: it should be a decision made by the people of Europe. Unfortunately, if past eurozone."

Simon Jenkins says in the Guardian that this bailout marks the point at which the union will become closer, with dangerous consequences:

"The latest Greek bailout is the moment when continental Europe finds itself forced to transmogrify from a loose federation into a brittle unitary state. If European politics starts to implode and return to xenophobia, manned borders, ethnic cleansings and trade boycotts, that start is now. This is a true turning point.
 
"From the earliest days of European union after the second world war, such a point was the greatest danger. As long as national currencies could move flexibly in a climate of free trade, Europe's extraordinarily diverse political economy could enjoy a 'variable geometry'. The safety valve of devaluation allowed countries to adjust over time. Their distinctive autonomies and political cultures could survive.That safety valve is now turning off."

The Telegraph's Peter Oborne agrees with Simon Jenkins that this marks the beginning of a closer union which he says has always been Germany's wish:

"Despite the grumbling, for the Germans, the bail-outs are worth every penny, because they guarantee a cheap outlet for their manufactured goods. Yesterday's witching hour of the European Union means that Germany has come very close to realising Bismarck's dream of an economic empire stretching from central Europe to the Eastern Mediterranean."

Paul Krugman warns in the New York Times that the austerity measures in the plan could, along with US debt problems, lead to a great recession:

"Since those countries 'under a programme' are being forced into drastic fiscal austerity, this amounts to a plan to have all of Europe slash spending at the same time. And there is nothing in the European data suggesting that the private sector will be ready to take up the slack in less than two years.
 
"For those who know their 1930s history, this is all too familiar. If either of the current debt negotiations fails, we could be about to replay 1931, the global banking collapse that made the Great Depression great. But, if the negotiations succeed, we will be set to replay the great mistake of 1937: the premature turn to fiscal contraction that derailed economic recovery and ensured that the Depression would last until World War II finally provided the boost the economy needed."

Daily View: What did we learn from MPs' questions on phone hacking?

Clare Spencer | 09:53 UK time, Wednesday, 20 July 2011

James and Rupert Murdoch

 

The day after News Corp's bosses appeared in front of MPs to answer their questions on phone hacking there is much talk about an attempt to throw a foam pie in the face for Rupert Murdoch and his wife, Wendi's defence. In amongst this pie talk commentators pick out what they learnt from the session.

The New Statesman's Peter McHugh manages to select one piece of information aside from the pie:

"Time crawled by as committee members tried to ask the questions they must have overheard on the tube home but there was neither heat nor light until James was asked if his company had been picking up the legal bills of chief criminal Glen Mulcaire even after his prison sentence. The simple answer seems to be yes although the words uttered bore only a passing relationship to this fact."

Once the Daily Mail's Quentin Lett gets passed the pie incident he picks out his choice of what was new:

"We also learned how amazingly close Mr Murdoch had been to Gordon Brown. 'Our children played together. I felt he had great values,' said Mr Murdoch about Labour's Mr Brown."

But overall commentators seem frustrated that so little was learned, the Independent's editorial calls the answers evasive:

"Tom Watson exposed just how little Rupert Murdoch knew (or would admit to knowing) about what took place at News International in the years after the phone-hacking scandal first broke in 2005. As Mr Watson noted, this might not be enough given that, as News Corp's chairman, Mr Murdoch is responsible for corporate governance."

Fraser Nelson in the Spectator calls it a "strikingly uninformative" session:

"Many will have tuned in wanting to see the devil. Many more will have turned in wanting to see the historic showdown promised. Unless I missed it, there was nothing that will make a YouTube moment. Unless they make a slow-mo version of the Wendi slap."

There are a few theories how so little was learnt after so many questions. In the
Financial Times Philip Delves Broughton says
the scale of the Murdoch empire was used as an explanation to why the Murdochs didn't always have the answers:

"The MPs did their best to challenge him, but they were up against a man who has built his company over 57 years, who employs 52,000 people around the world, who broke the British print unions, barged into US network television, and gave us Titanic and Avatar. Pressed on details of the hacking scandal, he said that the News of the World represented a tiny fraction of News Corp, less than 1 per cent of its $33bn revenues last year. At times the Murdochs addressed the MPs as if they were a slightly dim MBA class. In large businesses, they explained, it was customary to delegate authority to managers, and that these managers had a certain amount of discretion to make decisions and manage budgets. Such systems rely on measures of trust."

The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland wonders if Rupert Murdoch played up his frail appearance:

"More epic still, almost Shakespearean, was the dynamic between father and son: Rupert placing his hand on his son's arm, as he sought to interrupt; James, anxiously watching his father floundering, desperately trying to intervene and take over. Cynics wondered if the whole show was phoney - if old man Rupe was faking semi-senility under Tom Watson's questioning in order to extract sympathy and make credible his claim to have been in the dark about the NoW's darkest practices. He did rally remarkably as the session went on, remembering circulation figures from the mid-1990s and alive to the legal meaning of the phrase "wilful blindness'. (One recalled Ernest Saunders, who avoided full punishment for the Guinness affair by an apparent lapse into Alzheimer's disease, from which he miraculously recovered.)"

Reaction to Neil Kinnock's call for a balanced press

Clare Spencer | 13:56 UK time, Tuesday, 19 July 2011

While talking on Radio 4's Today about the phone-hacking scandal former Labour leader Lord Kinnock argued the UK needs a balanced press:

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The recommendation to emulate broadcast news came at the end of the interview:

"We have had, since the 1950s, independent television, commercially independent and commercially run subject to a charter which it has honoured with great fidelity, and I see no reason at all why those general rules, which have certainly not impeded freedom of expression or activity in any way at all, shouldn't have wider applications."

Twitter erupted with criticism to the claim.

Conservative Home's Tim Montgomerie suggests in Lord Kinnock's world News of the World wouldn't be the only paper to close:

In Kinnock's ideal world there'd be no Mail, Sun or Telegraph, just a government-regulated National Information News... http://bit.ly/mXhQIY'Tue Jul 19 11:45:57 via TypePad Favorite Retweet Reply

The Wall Street Journal's Iain Martin guesses Lord Kinnock's comments are causing problems for Ed Miliband:

GB last week, now Kinnock intervention (calling for a censored press) backfires. Mili E must be wishing former Lab leaders would shut up.'Tue Jul 19 09:22:43 via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Labour MP Tom Harris confirmed Iain Martin's suspicion:

I understand why some Labour people will want to agree with Kinnock's press regulation comments. But don't, okay? Just don't.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

In blogs a little more detail is given to the particulars of the outrage against Lord Kinnock's idea. Daniel Hannan explains in his Daily Telegraph blog that the goal, even within broadcasting isn't obtainable:

"No statute can guarantee neutrality, for the simple reason that no two people will agree on what constitutes neutrality"

The Economist's Bagehot blog gets down to the specifics of how Lord Kinnocks ideas would (not) work for their publication:

"So no political bias to the point of "prejudice". That is a loaded term. What about "set of core principles"? Under the Kinnock rules, would The Economist be required to give equal billing to advocates of trade protectionism, to supporters of the death penalty, or to nativists calling for an end to all immigration?
 
"Time for Ed Miliband to distance himself from his former leader, and sharpish."

Daily View: What to expect from MPs' phone-hacking questions

Clare Spencer | 10:38 UK time, Tuesday, 19 July 2011

News Corporation chiefs Rupert and James Murdoch and former executive Rebekah Brooks will be questioned by MPs later about the phone-hacking scandal. Commentators look ahead to what they expect.

Labour MP and self-titled "sole surviving admirer" of Rupert Murdoch, Austin Mitchell says in the Times he doubts much will be resolved from today's committee:

"The parliamentary select committees are now piling in, in the hope of emulating the grown-up committees of the US Senate. But they are more machines for making noise than for trenchant inquiry.
 
"So we are in for the great anti-climax, rather like Iraq after cheering crowds pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein only to find that there were years of fighting, death and torture ahead. Instead of the prevailing mood of self-congratulation we should seize the moment to strengthen media regulation."

In the Independent Tom Sutcliffe is already wincing at the thought of MPs, unaccustomed to the limelight, ploughing in to ask questions:

"At least one man present deserves a bit of limelight - Tom Watson, who began worrying at a tiny exposed nub of bone years ago and eventually helped tug an entire skeleton into the light. Given his detailed knowledge of the affair - and the scorn poured on him at various times in the past few years - there would be a certain logic if his fellow committee members took a vow of silence and left it to him exclusively. But that sadly is very unlikely. The all-party composition of committees demands that Buggins gets a turn too - and Buggins, whoever he or she is, may find the temptation to showcase their own brilliance or moral probity irresistible. Or to subtly cut whoever preceded Buggins down in size a bit."

David Allen Green says in the New Statesman that although Rebekah Brooks will be protected by parliamentary privilege, we shouldn't be surprised if she decides to evade questioning:

"[I]t may not be in her [Rebekah Brooks] interests to say things which would otherwise be prejudicial to any defence which she may wish to use in the event of prosecution. She certainly may not want to incriminate herself. For, although there may be a formal barrier of privilege to prevent the use of those words as part of any prosecution or civil claim, any such words could well inform practical litigation decisions and she will be challenged to repeat those words outside of Parliament. Any attempt to rely on privilege will quickly become artificial. That is why we should not be surprised if, at least for many questions, Rebekah Brooks does not assist parliamentarians with their enquiries."

The Telegraph's Mary Riddell is sceptical that today's questioning will change the relationship between politicians and the press:

"But while Mr Miliband is correct to highlight expenses crooks, there is little mention in his thesis of the creeping virus, endemic in Labour as in Conservative circles, of complicity with the powerful. Today, Rupert Murdoch faces a tyrant's show trial. Any day now, he and his creatures may again be serving cocktails to their political lackeys."

In the Daily Mail Stephen Glover accuses politicians of being hypocritical:

"After the Press and the police, who will be next? Not the politicians, we may be sure, who will enjoy themselves today in trying to eviscerate Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in the House of Commons. Yet it is the politicians, or at any rate the leading ones, who chose to suck up to Rupert Murdoch in the past, and gave him his power."

Daily View: Met resignation and Cameron's future

Clare Spencer | 09:58 UK time, Monday, 18 July 2011

David Cameron, Sir Paul Stephenson

 

Commentators react to the resignation of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, asking what this means for the Prime Minister David Cameron.

The Guardian's editorial reads between the lines of Sir Paul's resignation speech to find a message for David Cameron:

"Sir Paul's long resignation statement protested his innocence in all respects. But one crucial passage effectively pointed the finger at Downing Street, drawing an comparison between Mr Cameron's hiring of Andy Coulson and his own recruitment of his deputy. The point was implicit, but widely understood: 'I'll take responsibility: what about you?' And thus a crisis which, for a long time, was perceived as a relatively contained issue of journalistic ethics, started lapping at the door of the prime minister himself."

Similarly, The Telegraph's editorial says Sir Paul's resignation doesn't bode well for David Cameron:

"Far from easing the pressure on David Cameron, Sir Paul's departure increases it. For nearly a fortnight now, Downing Street has had to have information dragged from it about the closeness of the Prime Minister's relationship with News International and, in particular, Rebekah Brooks, who became the latest News International executive to be arrested yesterday.
 
"Ever since Mr Cameron made the fatal error of appointing Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor, as his press spokesman, the waters of this murky affair have been lapping at his feet. They show no sign of receding. If anything, they are rising."

James Forsyth says in the Spectator that Sir Paul's resignation speech gave "plenty of political ammunition" to Labour:

"Yvette Cooper has already done a tour of the TV studio using this passage to make two political attacks on the Prime Minister. First, highlighting how Stephenson felt he couldn't give Cameron a full update on the matter because of Cameron's relationship with Coulson. Second, saying that if Stephenson has resigned because of his decision to hire a senior figure at the News of the World, then what about Cameron's decision to employ the editor who resigned over phone hacking."

Political blogger Iain Dale says David Cameron's resignation is looking more likely but wouldn't be fair:

"I can't believe I am even writing this, but it is no longer an impossibility to imagine this scandal bringing down the Prime Minister or even the government. OK, some of you reading this may think that last sentence is a deranged ranting, and you may be right. Indeed, I hope you are. But Sir Paul Stephenson launched a thinly veiled attack on David Cameron in his resignation statement and the Prime Minister is already on the ropes about the propriety of his relationship with Andy Coulson.
 
"The irony, of course, is that virtually everything we are talking about in this scandal happened under the last government, and yet it is this one which is getting it in the neck largely because of David Cameron's decision to appoint Andy Coulson."

In the Independent Mary Ann Sieghart doesn't go as far as to suggest David Cameron will resign, instead saying that the saga will not help him in the next election. However, she thinks Mr Cameron's relationship with Rebekah Brooks is more damaging than Sir Paul's resignation:

"Now that she has been arrested, the Prime Minister's cosy relationship with the former News International chief executive has become all the more embarrassing. That he should have brought her into his weekend social life as well as his professional life - even when his Government was making huge commercial decisions about her company - looks very bad. And some voters, who already suspect he is too privileged, too elitist, too concerned with his rich and powerful friends, will only have their prejudices confirmed."

The Times editorial says allegations against the police take the story up a notch:

"The public may be disgusted by illegal and immoral practices among tabloid journalists, and dismayed by the thought of politicians unbalanced by the urge to keep the favour of newspaper executives. At the point at which this sorry tale touches the police, however, it becomes frightening. Unless a huge amount of what has been alleged these past two weeks is sheer fiction, Britain's police are riven with corruption on an institutional scale. Journalists who bribe policemen are indicative of a flawed industry. Policemen who can be bribed are indicative of a flawed state."

US View: How a UK phone-hacking scandal could affect the US

Clare Spencer | 12:09 UK time, Thursday, 14 July 2011

Rupert Murdoch

 

Commentators look at what the News of the World phone-hacking scandal means for the US.

In the LA Times Timothy Garton Ash gives recap of how the scandal has spilled into the US:

"Hugh Grant appeals to Americans to wake up to Rupert Murdoch's pernicious influence on their own media. Sen John D Rockefeller IV calls for an inquiry into the activities of Murdoch's parent company, News Corp and whether Americans' phones were hacked. If it turns out that 9/11 victims were targeted, as suggested by the campaigning British MP Tom Watson, then this will no longer be just a foreign story. Only on Murdoch-owned Fox News is it as if none of this had happened. A clip from Fox News Watch, filmed during a commercial break, shows the panelists joking about the one story they are not going to discuss. News watch indeed."

In the Atlantic James Fallows compares the New York Times' website front page to Fox News' website. At the time of writing - when News Corp had withdrawn their bid for the remaining share of BSkyB - there was no mention of what he called the "Watergate-scale" Murdoch scandal. This he sees as proof that Fox News's credentials are questionable:

"Here's a challenge: For anyone who denies that Fox is a propaganda operation rather than news, run by apparatchiks rather than journalists, let's see an explanation of the difference between these pages and the story Fox pretends isn't there."

David Ignatius says in the Washington Post that Rupert Murdoch's success could have more to do with his rivals than being the voice of the people:

"In the fair-and-balanced spirit, let me grant Murdoch one important point: He wouldn't have been so successful if some of his venerable rivals hadn't, in fact, been elitist, skewed to the left and sometimes just plain boring. Murdoch's publications and television networks may have coarsened standards, but they are also entertaining. Being irreverent is not the problem. The media world could use more of that Murdochian energy, not less"

Massimo Calabresi concentrates in Time's Swampland blog on how the bad news for Murdoch spread to the US thanks to calls for an investigation into claims that 9/11 victims may have had their phones hacked - something that Calabresi says is unsubstantiated:

"The Hon Peter King wants the FBI immediately to investigate the fact that an unidentified private investigator supposedly told an unidentified source who in turn supposedly told a reporter for the Daily Mirror that the private investigator was once asked by a News of the World reporter to get call records of 9/11 victims and that the private investigator didn't do it but he presumed that the News Of The World wanted those records so that they could hack into their voicemail.
 
"Yeah, Director Mueller, get right on that. I'm not saying we won't eventually find out that some reporter paid by NewsCorp has done something unethical on this side of the Atlantic at some point in the past; maybe it will even involve 9/11 somehow. What I am saying is that as it stands the 9/11 hacking story is thinly sourced, to put it mildly."

The New York Times cast the withdrawal of the bid as a family feud between Rupert Murdoch and his son James as it claims Rupert Murdoch and his chief operating officer, Chase Carey, overruled James Murdoch "consulting him only after the decision was all but final". It goes on to describe further differences between the two:

"Though Fox News has of late become the thrust of his political power in the United States, as well as a major source of revenue, his newspapers were the seedlings of his vast media enterprise. His emotional attachment to them runs deep, and they remain influential platforms not just in this country but in Britain.
 
"James Murdoch, 38, is said to share none of his father's romantic notions about newspapers."

Former New York Post reporter Ian Spiegelman tells Howard Kurtz at the Daily Beast that for scandals at the New York Post and News of the World the rot goes back to News Corp:

"News Corp VPs are nationless. It doesn't matter where you put them - they are plugged into their own, floating nation... namely News Corp. You don't always see them, but they are always hovering between the editor-in-chief and Rupert, and their loyalties remain not with any country or system of laws. Imagine the kind of pressure such a misty, loyalty-free menace could put on a reporter who actually lives where he lives and whose life is there. You want to know if this London poison is likely to have spread to New York? Yeah. But don't blame London."

Daily View: What next for News International?

Clare Spencer | 09:29 UK time, Thursday, 14 July 2011

British newspaper commentators ask what is next for News International after Rupert Murdoch withdrew his bid to buy the remaining part of BSkyB.

Before being convicted of fraud, Conrad Black was himself a newspaper magnate. He explains in the Financial Times what he thinks should happen to the BSkyB licence:

“As it happens, I don’t see much practical difference to the public interest between his present effective control of BSkyB and his complete ownership of it. If, but only if, News Corp is reasonably found guilty of institutional criminality – and the potential accused deserves the presumption of innocence (however rarely it has accorded it to others) – its satellite telecasting licence should be revoked.”

But Emily Bell asks in the Guardian if the climate will ever be right again for News International to reignite its bid for the whole of BSkyB:

“At the heart of this question lies the issue of how the company can credibly rebuild its managerial core to convince politicians, regulators, customers and shareholders that it can exercise better ethical and commercial judgment.
 
“It is not too outlandish to speculate that there will be no comeback this time without Murdoch digging out what remains wedged in the dark corners of the filthy ecurie: the alleged bribery to police, the hush money to victims, and a trail of family and employees who bear responsibility for both the hacking itself and the subsequent cover-up. What will be enough to make the company ‘future proof’? Selling the newspapers which symbolised Murdoch's rise to both political and commercial power in the UK is an obvious move and one which has already been informally mooted.”

Onto David Cameron's promised inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World, the Independent’s Steve Richards argues its aims are too vague:

“I do not have great hope that the inquiry announced yesterday will deliver the prize. Its remit is wide and unavoidably abstract. To take one example of the difficulties when we move from the vague to the particular, Cameron stated yesterday that he supported "independent" regulation of the newspapers rather than self-regulation. When asked to explain the difference, he could not do so. I have spoken at many meetings where the relationship between the media and politics is the theme. The meetings go around in circles and always promise more than they deliver. This may be the fate of the inquiry.”

The Telegraph's Bruce Anderson warns against an over-reaction when deciding punishments for phone hackers:

“For years, and not only at News International, journalists have been indulging in squalid criminality, abetted by policemen. Can it really be true that a Royal protection officer was suborned? If so, the breach of trust is sickening. But that sordid era is now over, for which we should all be grateful. However belatedly, crime will end in punishment. Even so it is important that the necessary reforms do not compromise the freedom of the press. Revulsion, however justified, is a dangerous counsellor. Although everyone wants quick action, we also need judicious conclusions. Fortunately, there is every reason to suppose than Lord Justice Leveson is the right man to deliver them.”

David Aaronovitch wonders in the Times if the enormity of the outrage will actually stop anything from changing:

“The problem with firestorms, like that following the phone-hacking revelations, is that they suck the oxygen out of debate. You’re only really allowed to express a narrow range of responses, from shock and horror to string ’em up; everyone piles in (except those who become curiously silent) - and no thinking gets done. Then, once the storm is over, exhausted as from the completion of a gigantic act of coition, no one much wants to talk about what it all meant. They prefer to sleep.”

Daily View: Should Murdoch own BSkyB?

Clare Spencer | 09:48 UK time, Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Sky

 

Commentators discuss Labour's motion to be voted on today calling for Rupert Murdoch to abandon News Corp's bid for outright ownership of BSkyB.

Channel 4 News' Jon Snow says the vote is significant for party politics:

"We are in uncharted waters. In my working lifetime I have never known the Opposition Party to put down a motion in the House of Commons, which the Government of the day decides then to endorse and vote for. Today is therefore likely to prove an historic day in which MPs will bind together on behalf the nation they represent to call upon a commercial entity to end its endeavour to take over another."

In the Mirror Kevin Maguire agrees that the Tories backing Labour is a note-worthy moment:

"Miliband today bouncing Cameron into opposing Murdoch's BSkyB grab is a table-turning moment. Gordon Brown boasted his party was best when it was Labour.
 
"Miliband's best when he follows his moral compass instead of fretting about offending diehard critics. I know he worried about confronting the Aussie-American who controls more of the British media than is good for democracy.
 
"Until a little over a week ago, he was paralysed by Labour's old thinking, constrained in a Murdoch straitjacket."

However, in the Guardian Julian Glover says David Cameron has been dragged into supporting the motion:

"Few people are prepared to listen to the government, either, when it points out that it is easier in situations like these for opposition parties to demand action than for ministers to work out what it is legally safe to do.
 
"In opposition, if you manage to hurt the government, the best tactic is to keep on punching the bruise. Miliband has done it brilliantly over the last few days. He can't keep doing it forever, but while his luck and courage lasts, Cameron can do nothing but reel towards the ropes."

The Independent's David Prosser points out that the corporate governance group Pirc had been warning about a BSky B bid for some time:

"There were shareholders who complained when James Murdoch became chairman of BSkyB in 2008, despite concerns about his independence. All credit to institutions such as Aviva, Legal & General and the Co-op. Pension funds and other investors ought now to be asking why their investment managers simply waved through the appointment."

Will Hutton argues in the Guardian that Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB bid "violently collides" with the national interests:

"This is about Britain's capacity to sustain a good capitalism, hawklike about monopolists, and a good democracy - hawklike about private, insider lobbying. The takeover of BSkyB could scarcely raise more profound issues. It is about whether Britain is prepared to sustain a state within a state - a proposition to which all of us, of whatever political hue, must surely say no. Which will then require the creation of whatever processes that are needed to make that 'no' an ongoing reality. We are going to have to start thinking harder about capitalism, ownership, the media and democracy. The thinking starts now - and Britain will be the healthier for it."

The former Director General of the BBC Greg Dyke goes the furthest in the Financial Times:

"Given that News Corp has always had effective control of BSkyB, the more interesting question now is not whether the takeover will be allowed to go ahead but how much of its existing stake in the broadcaster will News Corp be allowed to own in the future? If it is ruled that it is not a 'fit and proper' organisation to own all of the company, why would it be allowed to keep any shares at all, or certainly retain a stake above the 29.9 per cent level at which competition authorities usually rule that a shareholder has control? It is also questionable whether a Murdoch should continue to be chairman."

Daily View: Ed Miliband's attack on phone hacking

Clare Spencer | 09:28 UK time, Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Ed Miliband

 

Commentators dissect how Labour leader Ed Miliband has performing in his reaction to the phone-hacking scandal.

Rachel Sylvester says in the Times Ed Miliband is the only one doing well out of the scandal:

"Usually, opposition leaders bemoan the fact that they can only speak but have no power to act. But at the moment being in that situation is an advantage for Mr Miliband. He has the chance to tap into public outrage with his words, but does not have the responsibility of actually having to deal with legally contentious issues."

The Independent's Steve Richards applauds Ed Miliband but says it is still impossible to conclude the political fall-out yet:

"Miliband deserves to get credit for being well ahead of David Cameron. His words at last Wednesday's Prime Minister's Questions in which he warned Cameron that he will change his mind on BSkyB were prophetic. Cameron is changing his mind fast. But the mood might shift to one in which voters become worried by politicians interfering with the so-called freedom of the press. Murdoch's empire is an agile fighter and will find ways of hitting out against perceived enemies. The drama is apocalyptic, but where the stakes are highest, revolutionary change or virtually no change at all are both possible."

But in the Telegraph Mary Riddell says Ed Miliband needs to carry on defending the freedom of the press:

"In this climate, the geekiness and outsiderish qualities that have caused such doubts about Miliband have proved his greatest assets. Give or take a sausage roll and a glass of prosecco, he owes nothing to Murdoch. That independence makes it all the more incumbent on Miliband to fight as hard as necessary for a free press. He is about to be lobbied by tabloid-bitten celebrities who have appointed themselves guardians of public morality. He should tell them to get lost."

The Daily Mail's Quentin Letts describes Ed Miliband as enjoying the scandal immensely when he observed him giving a speech on Monday:

"Mr Miliband's self-confidence has improved greatly during this affair. He now looks an audience in the eye rather than throwing his gaze at his feet or at some distant ceiling cornice. He has discovered his inner sunshine. He is like a dog in a Pedigree Chum advert, suddenly all waggy-tailed and woofish.
 
"He has opted for a tone of superior disappointment in what has been happening, as though it has all come as the most terrible shock to him. 'I will accept nothing less than some straight-talking,' he said out of one side of his mouth. 'We need a clear focus,' he said, peering against the glare of the TV lights."

The Guardian's Simon Hoggart carries on the dog comparison following Mr Miliband from his press conference to the House of Commons in the afternoon:

"Ed Miliband, who for nine months now has given the impression of a small, yappy dog, barking at the shadow of passing birds, has suddenly remade himself as a pit bull, savage and growling and very, very cross.
 
"And the bones he has been thrown, each one bigger and juicier than the last! Royal protection officers suborned! Gordon Brown's bank details and son's medical records allegedly blagged! Scandal spreads to the Sunday Times! News International fighting a last, desperate battle as one by one another husky is thrown to the pursuing wolves! All Mr Miliband's birthday presents for the next 10 years really have come at once."

Tim Montgomerie from Conservative Home suggests Mr Miliband might come a cropper if questions are asked about his own head of communications:

"Ed Miliband has consolidated his position in the Labour Party. Labour supporters have enjoyed his ferocious attacks on Murdoch and Cameron in recent days. But does he look any more prime ministerial to ordinary voters? No. His knight-on-white-charger routine will also look less wise if and when questions about Tom Baldwin grow and News International bites back (some time in the future)."

Daily View: How should the press be regulated?

Clare Spencer | 09:42 UK time, Monday, 11 July 2011

Following the phone-hacking scandal commentators look at how the press should be regulated.

The Telegraph editorial warns against a new system which could protect the rich and powerful:

"The PCC [Press Complaints Commission], or its successor, must have the power to investigate accusations far more thoroughly. But David Cameron's plan for a new system of government-imposed regulation, whose nature will be determined via a second inquiry, has its dangers, too. As 'super-injunctions' have shown, the law has given those with the money to do so the ability to stifle discussion, and to prevent the publication of facts they find inconvenient. We can be sure that some politicians would, if given the chance, frame regulations in a way which would impede the investigation of serious wrongdoing by public figures, and even diminish the ability of the press to scrutinise and criticise government policy. This would be disastrous for the media, and for democracy."

In the Independent Tim Luckhurst also protests against the possibility of politicians regulating the press:

"Formal regulation of the press has long appealed to some politicians in all parties. Now the prospect of a Britain denuded of raucous, trouble-making journalism loomed before my eyes...
 
"The News of the World's criminal cruelty has created an opportunity to enhance and reinforce standards in British journalism. Our democracy will suffer if politicians exploit it as a Trojan horse to introduce statutory regulation. British democracy grew to maturity in partnership with a free press. It cannot thrive by muzzling journalists who must always be free to offend and humiliate the powerful."

In the Daily Mail Stephen Glover worries about the costs of tougher regulation:

"What Mr Cameron seemingly ignores in conjuring up a supposedly dysfunctional press is that most newspapers are financially in a weak state. The News of the World, for example, is barely profitable, if profitable at all, and its circulation of less than three million is about a third of its sale half a century ago...
 
"I can assure him that heaping regulations on an already enfeebled press would almost certainly lead to circulations falling further as blander, frightened newspapers found it more difficult to gain the interest of readers."

The Guardian's Peter Preston remembers when the Press Complaints Commission was set up after two Sunday Sport journalists sneaked into a hospital to take pictures of the injured 'Allo 'Allo actor Gordon Kaye. He warns there are new challenges to setting up regulation this time:

"Will it be any easier, this time round, to decide on successor regulation? No, it will be much more difficult. The NPA [Newspaper Publishers' Association] is weaker. Big movers and shakers - from the Mail to Wapping - are hors de combat. The digital revolution peddling true freedom of information ploughs on. Even loftier journalists who've derided the PCC, like those who've betrayed it, haven't thought through what comes after.
 
"But, from the Caribbean to the Balkans to southern Africa, all those countries that have built press self-regulation on our model will be worrying. Is a freedom so toiled after and fought for something that can be tossed away? Watch this space: and fear the void."

Jeff Jarvis suggests in the Guardian that in an internet age the general public could regulate the press:

"How do we scale fact-checking? My thought is that we should see every news organisation place a box next to all its reports inviting fact-checking: readers flagging dubious assertions, and journalists and readers picking up the challenge to investigate. The Washington Post and the Torrington (Connecticut) Register Citizen have them. "That small addition raises the standards and expectations for journalists' work and, more importantly, opens the process of journalism to the public, inviting them to act as both watchers and collaborators."

Jarvis also suggests that any new regulation would have to consider including bloggers like Paul Staines who writes the political Guido Fawkes' blog. But Staines suggests in his blog that consumer power has already proven itself as a way to regulate the press:

"In the end Murdoch closed the News of the World because he feared an advertiser and consumer boycott (plus to try take the heat off the Sky takeover). If you disapprove of a newspaper don't buy and read it. That is simply the most powerful restraint you have on newspaper proprietors in a free democracy. Even Rupert Murdoch fears his customers."

Daily View: Why did Murdoch close News of the World?

Clare Spencer | 10:15 UK time, Friday, 8 July 2011

Commentators speculate about Rupert Murdoch's reasons for closing News of the World and look at how this could change the UK's media landscape.

Bob Garfield says in the Guardian closing the paper makes sense:

"By lopping News of the World from the News Corp corpus, Murdoch is taking control of the story, dictating the climax weeks or months before officialdom would act, during which time he would have to endure the News of the World tar-the-star treatment from every media organisation in the world, including some of his own."

Also in the Guardian, Roy Greenslade backs up Bob Garfield:

"The closure of the News of the World is a breathtaking, but entirely proportionate, response to the crisis that was engulfing the paper and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.
 
"He had to do something dramatic because it was clear that his company was so badly tarnished by the almost hourly revelations of wrong-doing by the paper."

The Telegraph's David Hughes thinks that the decision is not only about protecting News International's chief executive Rebekah Brooks:

"Most of all, this move is designed to ensure that News Corporation's bid for BSkyB goes ahead. That is at the heart of Murdoch's strategy, not the fate of Britain's best-selling red top."

William Rees-Mogg says in the Times that News of the World's closure is a decision the public would have made themselves:

"The first rule of newspaper ethics, as with the ethics of political life, is not to lose touch with the moral codes of the audience: common sense, goodwill, help to neighbours, decent conduct in general."

Philip Stephens argues in the Financial Times that mistakes made by the paper have finally caught up with Rupert Murdoch:

"As always, though, News International operated with a ruthlessness and on a scale that left its rivals behind. Within the industry, the News of the World was said to be 'out of control'. Mr Murdoch has bungled his response at every turn. Instead of acting decisively when a dam of new allegations burst last year, he backed a failed strategy of evasion and obfuscation. Now he has run out of time. Ms Brooks is beyond saving. So, probably, is Mr Murdoch's last big media dream. Nemesis is fast catching up with hubris."

Aside from the motives, commentators look at the consequences. Andrew Gilligan worries in the Telegraph that the demise of the News of the World could threaten press freedom:

"The paper's demise certainly marks the end of a particular tabloid era and culture. But it may only have succeeded in triggering an earthquake that now threatens the entire British press.
 
"For be in no doubt: hateful as the behaviour of some journalists has been, we may now face something even worse. For many in power, or previously in power, the News of the World's crimes are a God-given opening to diminish one of the greatest checks on that power: the media."

The Independent's Mary Dejevsky defends Rupert Murdoch:

"It is easy to demonise Rupert Murdoch. Yet without his involvement in the British media, the newspapers he now owns might not exist at all. As someone who worked for The Times, I concede an interest here. His defeat of the print unions changed the economics of the British press and made new ventures, such as The Independent, feasible. With Sky, he transformed the television landscape, giving British viewers a breadth of choice that has only recently come to the rest of Europe.
 
"With each expansion he made new enemies, with many seeing any Murdoch gain as a threat. It may or may not be coincidence that each twist of the phone-hacking scandal seemed to coincide with a stage in Murdoch's efforts to gain the majority stake in BSkyB. Each revelation has served as a convenient peg to hang an anti-Murdoch agenda on."

Finally, for Robert Zeliger at Foreign Policy the phone hacking was the final straw as he looks back at the paper's "most questionable journalistic moments", number one being the "fake sheik":

"What enterprising investigative reporter hasn't pretended to be an Arab sheikh to trick rich and powerful people into exposing embarrassing secrets or performing illegal activities? What's so wrong about that? News of the World reporter Mazher Mahmood, who was born in Britain to Pakistani immigrant parents, claimed to be responsible for putting over 100 criminals behind bars (though critics have questioned the number)."

Daily View: Will the relationship between politicians and the press change?

Clare Spencer | 09:56 UK time, Thursday, 7 July 2011

As accusations about the extent of phone hacking at the News of the World continue commentators ask about the friends politicians keep.

The Telegraph's Peter Oborne says David Cameron has ruined his reputation by being friends with Rebekah Brooks but he isn't the first to be dragged into the "sewer" by his friends:

"From a popular and respected national leader, he will come to be defined by his ill-judged friendship with the Chipping Norton set. This kind of personal degradation has happened before. By the end, Harold Wilson was irreparably damaged by his friendship with dodgy businessmen such as the raincoat manufacturer Lord Kagan. The Macmillan premiership fell apart under the weight of revelation from Lord Astor's Cliveden set.
 
"So what must Mr Cameron do? First, he must speedily turn his back on Rebekah Brooks."

However, in the blog Political Betting Mike Smithson thinks Oborne may have judged the situation too quickly:

"He suggests that if the Prime Minister plays his cards wrong, his public image will change in a matter of a few days.
 
"As ever Oborne's article is powerful, insightful and entertaining but is it too early to draw conclusions on the scale of the damage? The critical thing for the PM, surely, is how he moves on from here and we've only just seen the first phase of his response."

In the Independent Andreas Whittam Smith gives a rather unflattering international comparison to the relationship between the press and politicians:

"Unchecked, News International's illegal practices would grow ever more far reaching, more police officers would be suborned, more trials ruined. And more politicians would be bent to Mr Murdoch's will. For, just as Italian politicians have courted the mafia, so British politicians have fawned over News International executives and editors. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, even brought a former editor into Downing Street who, it is now alleged, authorised the payments of bribes to the police."

Mehdi Hasan wonders in the New Statesman if the saga will see the end of politicians "sucking up" to Rupert Murdoch and questions whether the belief that the Sun wins elections is even true:

"Why has the political class been seduced by Murdoch? Fear? Deference? Awe of his wealth and power? Murdoch, it is often remarked, spots and backs winners - but nowadays he seems to have lost his Midas touch. In September 2008, the Murdoch-owned New York Post enthusiastically endorsed John McCain, who was defeated by Barack Obama two months later. In September 2010, the Sun came out in favour of David Cameron, who failed to win a parliamentary majority less than than nine months later. 'I think the Murdoch press has less influence than it used to,' the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, told me in August 2010 in the midst of his leadership campaign. 'I don't think the Sun had a particularly good election. Twenty-three front pages supporting the Tories and the Tories got 36 per cent of the vote.'"

A bleaker prediction is cast by Brian Cathcart. He says in the Guardian he wouldn't be surprised if, because of close alliances, some tricks are used by politicians to wiggle out of an inquiry:

"It is a measure of the insidious influence of Rupert Murdoch that his company's shame has the capacity to embarrass not one but three prime ministers, all of whom, miraculously, have counted Rebekah Brooks as a friend, while cabinet ministers going back a dozen years or more (some of whom were hacked themselves) have as much to fear. None of them fancies a trip into the witness box.
 
"So we may expect plenty more wriggling and squirming, ducking and weaving."

Daily View: The fall-out from phone-hacking allegations

Clare Spencer | 10:42 UK time, Wednesday, 6 July 2011

News of the World front page

 

Commentators assess the fall-out from the continued phone-hacking allegations against the News of the World.

The Times editorial explains its change of tack in what it sees as journalists' version of MPs expenses:

"Before today, The Times, which, like the News of the World, is owned by News International, has taken the view that it ought not to comment on the issue of phone hacking. We have sought to report the story straight, in good faith, without taking any editorial view. A supportive line invites the accusation of speaking from the party script. A critical line is easily written off as a deliberate, insincere attempt to create distance from the story.
 
"But anyone who has serious faith in the public purpose of journalism has to record his or her dissent from the behaviour that has now been alleged. Anyone who believes in the nobility of the trade of reporting the truth, the better to inform the readers, and anyone who believes in the contribution of vibrant comment to a raucous and well-informed democracy, has to be clear when a line has been crossed."

The Independent's editorial says the latest allegations have sparked interest previously unseen:

"Even if it is true that the phone hacking investigation was once an arcane obsession of certain newspapers and politicians, that is emphatically not the case now. The fact that both the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, felt the need to come out in condemnation of the alleged offence yesterday reflected the extent of the public significance this saga has now taken on."

On the contrary Quentin Letts suggests in the Daily Mail that MPs may have different motives for their outrage:

"Though the anger about Milly Dowler is genuine, there is also a faint whiff of a political elite exacting revenge on a media which has repeatedly shown MPs to be swindlers and hypocrites. What a toxic carry-on.
 
"At this rate we'll have old Rupe himself summoned to the Commons Chamber and told to prostrate himself like some disgraced Japanese industrialist."

In the blog Political betting Mike Smithson predicts the political fall-out of this "mega story" to be played out in the commons today with PMQs at midday along with an emergency debate:

"For Labour the challenge is that the reported incidents took place while they were in government. For the Tories, and Cameron in particular, there are the sensitivities over the ex-Number 10 PR chief, Andy Coulson, and the PM's personal links with another ex-News of the World editor and now CEO of News International, Rebekah Brooks.
 
"If it becomes a partisan party political issue then my guess is that the blue team has most to lose."

In his Channel 4 News blog Jon Snow thinks there is another motive in the finger pointing:

"I know from my own sources that a number of journalists believe that other newspaper stables were hacking the phones of celebrities and others. But it has suited them to keep the focus on the stable that unites all other media operations in rivalry, News International."

The chief executive of Index on Censorship John Kampfner says in the Financial Times that the hacking accusations has made it a difficult time to campaign against new privacy laws but he continues to defend the idea of freedom of the press:

"No country has a perfect media, and goodness knows Britain's is flawed. But a healthy democracy should err on the side of journalists finding out too much rather than too little. By definition it is a rough trade. If an investigative reporter knows of, say, an arms company up to no good, should he in future be prevented from using subversive or undercover methods to seek out the truth? The criterion must be a heightened understanding of the public good, tested to distraction by editors and managers."

Simon Jenkins says in the Guardian that the hacking accusations can be understood within a context of press in crisis:

"For all newspapers, the News of the World phone-hacking scandal has become a moment of truth. It has shown how far commercial pressure from the web and from within big corporations has distorted ethics. Journalism has always tested the bounds of investigatory intrusion, but it cannot break or interfere with legal process. A law on privacy would be cumbersome and hard to police, but as the Press Complaints Commission is a broken reed in this matter, each scandal makes it harder to stave off calls for legislation. Such legislation would be a bad idea."

Green Room

Post categories:

Mark Kinver | 16:14 UK time, Monday, 4 July 2011

This edition of Green Room take a look at the emergence of shale gas as a energy source. Is it a saviour in the battle to secure supplies, or are the environmental costs too high? Also, what was the cause of a strange tidal surge around the shores of South-West England?


Anyone who follows stories on energy and climate change cannot help but notice how shale gas has emerged as a hot topic.

As well as the US and Europe, China has recently tapped into the potential of the subterranean energy resource.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, there are at least 48 major shale basins around the globe, offering a geographical diverse source of possible energy.

Domestically, it says:

"The development of shale gas... has become a "game changer" for the US natural gas market."

At a time when there are growing concerns among nations about being left vulnerable to the potentially unstable supply of imports, shale gas does seem to offer, at the very least, a buffer to soften the blow of any sudden disruption in supplies.

But not everyone is convinced.

Some researchers have questioned the assertion that the gas is a "stepping stone" to a low-carbon future and energy security.

Instead, they say it has the potential to be worse in climate change terms than coal.

Another US study suggested that shale gas drilling operations increased the risk of nearby drinking water becoming contaminated with methane.

In some cases, the concentrations were so high that people appeared to be able to ignite water pouring out of their taps.

Another concern is the risk of minor earthquakes in the vicinity of drilling operations.

In North-West England, two minor quakes in the space of weeks prompted MPs to call for an inquiry about the safety of extracting the gas via "fracking" because a trial extraction plant had been operating in the area.

Responding to the concerns, the British Geological Survey said:


"Any process that injects pressurised water into rocks at depth will cause the rock to fracture and possibly produce earthquakes.

 

"It is well known that injection of water or other fluids during the oil extraction and geothermal engineering, such as shale gas, processes can result in earthquake activity.

"Typically, the earthquakes are too small to be felt, however, there are a number of examples of larger earthquakes occurring."

 

Fracking involves injecting a mixture (including water and chemicals) under high pressure to break rock to release gas or oil locked in the material.

While environmentalists argue the process causes environmental damage, industry representatives say it is the only viable method currently available.

A recent report by MPs on the Common's Energy Select Committee called on UK ministers should support plans to allow shale gas extraction to go ahead.

Yet, across the English Channel, Bloomberg reports that France has become the first country to pass a law to that bans the use of fracking to extract gas and oil.

Permits that had been issued to companies to carry out exploration drilling have now been revoked.

'Mini tsunami'

Meanwhile, the shores of southern and western England experienced an "eerie" tidal surge at the end of June.

Videos posted on the web showed a "wall of water" flowing up river estuaries in a similar, but - admittedly, much smaller - fashion to the River Severn Bore.

Experts attributed the phenomenon to a underwater landslide on the continental shelf.

The Daily Telegraph's Donna Bowater reported:

"Witnesses said the sudden movement around 200 miles out to sea caused the tide to suddenly shift by 50 metres, creating walls of water.

"The change in air pressure also generated static that left onlookers' hair standing on end in the extraordinary environmental events earlier today.

"There were even reports that the conditions caused fish to leap out of the water."

 

Daily View: How will the Dilnot social care review be received?

Clare Spencer | 09:42 UK time, Monday, 4 July 2011

Nursing home

 

Ahead of the launch of the report recommending a new way of paying for social care, commentators ponder the chances of the a more costly system getting through.

In the Times Labour peer Lord Lipsey is not sure social care will be reformed given previous form:

"Every previous attempt to deal with this problem has failed. The Sutherland Royal Commission set up to look at it in 1999, to which I wrote a dissenting report, wanted the taxpayer to pick up the whole bill. In Scotland, where Lord Sutherland's policy has been tried, it has led to exploding demand for care and a doubling in the cost of home care in five years - a recognised disaster.
 
A few years of Government shilly-shallying were followed by the even more cracked proposal by Gordon Brown to provide care free to people in their own homes, while making them pay in full if they went into a care home. The Tories dubbed his plans to fund this through a levy on estates a "death tax" and little was heard of it during last year's election campaign."

Benedict Brogan suggests in the Telegraph that the report is difficult to sell in an era of cuts:

"We should take the praise that will be lavished on Dilnot with a dose of salt. David Cameron and George Osborne will try hard to avoid any language that might be interpreted as equivocal. But the £2-£3bn cost - rising to £5bn after 10 years apparently - is making them very nervous, as is the inescapable implication of what Dilnot proposes: the beneficiaries will be people with assets to protect, and the political minds in No10 worry that some will conclude that Dilnot is an expensive way of helping mainly Tory voters. Forget that it also means those with no assets will get their care for free. In an age of austerity, there is great nervousness about lavishing money on those who have it already, as it were."

Richard Humphries at the Kings Fund says the key question to ask when the report comes out is how much extra money will care get - irrespective of how it gets it:

"There is a single unpalatable truth that ageing societies throughout the world must devote a bigger share of national wealth to meet the costs of people living longer, irrespective of the funding systems they use. Even if nothing is done, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that the percentage of GDP spent on long-term care will rise from 1.2 per cent to 1.9 per cent over the next 20 years - and it would still be a confusing and crummy system that leaves hundreds of thousands of people without the care they need. Bringing extra money into the system will be the biggest and toughest test, swimming against a choppy Treasury tide of fiscal caution."

The Guardian's Polly Toynbee criticises the plan as rewarding an already undeservedly rich baby boomer generation:

"The richest generation is my own - the 55- to 64-year-olds - which has enjoyed four housing booms that poured wealth into our pockets for doing nothing at all - and now Dilnot removes the risk of losing much of it when we reach decrepitude.
 
"So if the Dilnot plan is adopted, it should be balanced by other taxes. A mansion capital gains tax on the sale of homes sold over £1m (or less) would raise a hefty contribution to pay back some of the ill-gotten gains of my generation. Why do the over-60s pay no national insurance, however much they earn? Abolishing that would bring in £3bn, and that is enough to repair the shaming state of care."

Meanwhile the Sun editorial welcomes it as a "sensible" idea, for an issue which needs to be tackled:

"The downside is the £2billion a year needed to pay the rest of the bill. There is an understandable reluctance to pass it on to the beleaguered taxpayer. What the Government can't afford to do is bury its head in the sand. This problem will only get bigger."

Daily View: Who won public's support over strike action?

Clare Spencer | 09:27 UK time, Friday, 1 July 2011

Commentators are divided over who won between the government and public sector strikers yesterday.

Andy McSmith suggests in the Independent that the government won the battle yesterday but the unions could win the war:

"Instead of being a test of industrial muscle, the current dispute is ultimately a battle for public support. The unions lack the power to force the Government to surrender, but if they can convince the public that it is the unreasonableness of the Government that provokes them to strike, they can make the political price the Government must pay to win dangerously high."

Conversely the Telegraph's editorial says the strike proved the unions will never win:

"The levels of tax and debt needed to sustain an unfeasibly large public sector workforce, which enjoys terms and conditions that are no longer available to anyone else, will continue to sap the strength of the economy. This is understood by most people in the country, which is why so many union members decided not to strike or declined to vote in the ballots that triggered the action. It is also why no mainstream political party, including Labour, nor any of the unions' usual cheerleaders in the media, have backed the strike: they know things cannot go on as before."

That crucial public support is nowhere to be found according to Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail:

"Far from advancing their cause, the unions only managed to alienate even more members of the public. Think of all the young working mothers who had to take the day off - and lose a day's pay - to look after their children.
 
"Millions of private sector employees, who have taken pay cuts and lost their final-salary pension schemes, are hardly going to sympathise with strikes by public sector staff already enjoying higher wages, better pensions and an earlier retirement age."

The Guardian's Martin Kettle says David Cameron "owns the dispute" right now but it could very easily switch:

"[Public support] is currently on the unions' side, albeit narrowly, over maintaining existing pensions rights - but against them, again narrowly, over striking on the issue. That could change if either side overplays its hand... These are not the 1970s or the 1980s, when the unions could so easily be framed as a threat to economic prosperity and social stability. Today the unions are neither the source of Britain's economic problems nor a threat to national order. Most want a negotiated settlement based on the defined benefit pension that the government has already promised. Ministers will be lucky to find a better time to settle than now. The politics-light public may not be paying detailed attention, but they get all this too."

The Times editorial focuses on what Labour leader Ed Miliband should do. It says he is stuck in the middle of "supporting a strike organised by its own supporters, and opposing it because it is unpopular and wrong but suggests he sees this as an opportunity:

"He has the chance to be seen as his own man, as brave and as capable of taking tough decisions. He should realise that he cannot please everyone and that his job is to lead. He should tell the unions that pension reform is essential and that strikes like this are not simply a tactical error, not simply premature, but are simply unacceptable to him.
 
"Then he should move decisively to reform the relationship between his party and the unions. He should announce that central to his changes to party rules will be an end to the role that unions play in both the election of the leader and in the nomination of candidates for parliamentary selection."

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