The scandals now unfolding are like a hidden network of wires behind plaster which, exposed by the Milly Dowler case to vigorous investigation, are being pulled on, shattering the plaster. Hidden connections are being exposed, showing the links of the Murdoch press (but surely not only the Murdoch press) to career criminals, politicians, and corrupt policemen.
The wires are still being yanked on, and there is no knowing where it will lead. Cameron is implicated — the same Cameron who a few months ago moved Lib-Dem minister Vince Cable sideways in his government because Cable had identified himself as an enemy of the Murdoch empire.
According to the former commander of the Flying Squad, John O’Connor, the
close personal and corrupt financial bonds between senior policemen and the Murdoch organisation that are now being exposed were forged in the heat of the Battle of Wapping in 1986.
There, every day for months, police smashed through picket lines of sacked printers and the labour movement activists who stood side by side with them.
In a drive to break the power of the print unions in Fleet Street, the centre of newspaper publishing, Murdoch had moved his newspaper operation out to Wapping, sacked hundreds of printworkers, and replaced them with a newly-recruited scab workforce.
Day after day, pickets fought Murdoch’s scab-herding police shock-troops. It was a repetition on a smaller scale of what had been done against the miners in the 1984-5 strike. Many pickets were injured.
That fact puts the scandal now ripping through the press, the police, and the political establishment into perspective.
The Murdoch press and (later) TV was the counterpart in the media, on the level of social propaganda, to the Tory offensive in the 1970s and 1980s.
As often with gangsters called in to help, the Murdochs came to lord it over the political establishment that had been glad of their support.
The Murdochs terrorised politicians and private citizens alike with the threat of character and career assassination. They conducted press vendettas against those who crossed them. They used blackmail and the threat of blackmail to keep public figures and political leaders in line.
Controlling 30 or 40% of the British press, they ignored the law and when they thought that necessary, broke it. They did that for decades, with impunity.
They became so powerful that they could shape government policy and the policy of the opposition. Prime ministers fawned on them, happy for a nod of approval or restraint in the Murdoch press’s disapproval of them.
They helped corrupt, vulgarise, and debase public life. They functioned in effect as a powerful political party above the other parties. They made ideological and political war on anything left of centre or even just centre.
They did not do it by argument, but by ridicule, scandal-mongering, and systematic misrepresentation. In the 1980s, for example, they created the “loony left”, using or inventing unrepresentative bits of silliness, to prevent discussion of real left-wing ideas.
Politicians resented the power of the Murdoch press, but mainstream politicians never dared take on Murdoch. To do that, they rightly calculated, was to sustain terrible immediate blows to career and hope of office.
The paralysing fear and careerist gutlessness of the politicians in turn made the reign of Murdoch possible and, for long, invulnerable.
Many of the things that are now being focused on have long been known. In 2003 Rebekah Brooks admitted before a House of Commons committee of inquiry that her organisation had paid the police for information.
Four years ago a private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, and the News of the World royal editor, Clive Goodman, were jailed for tapping phones. Nobody who followed the News of the World “exposures” and “exclusives” had good reason not to understand that illegal methods had been used to get the information.
It was not revolt against any of those things that finally blew the top off the Murdoch media empire. It was the revelation that the News of the World had hacked into the phone of a murdered child, Milly Dowler; that they had erased messages and thus for a while given the child’s family false hope that she was still alive.
That was grotesque, to be sure, but, even so, only a very small part of the damage, social, political, and intellectual, that the Murdoch organisation had done.
A month ago the Murdochs held their annual summer garden party, at which the whole Establishment, including the Prime Minister and the other main party leaders came to pay respect as his beneficiaries come to the mafia boss in the film The Godfather. Reports don’t say whether or not someone remembered to play the tune played in The Godfather’s garden party, “Mr Wonderful”.
But if someone had started to sing that to Rupert Murdoch, few there, and maybe no-one there, would have had the guts to refuse to join in!
Now their real feelings are coming out as politicians fall over themselves in their haste to vent their spleen at Murdoch. And if that’s how such “big” people felt, what about the rest of us?
Gordon Brown went to the House of Commons to voice his volcanic indignation against the Murdoch press for having printed details about his infant son’s health. When prime minister, he felt he had no option but to smile and bow to the tyrant.
And it hasn’t been just corrupt policemen and venal, gutless career politicians. The Murdochs got their hooks into segments of the left, too. Ken Livingstone, one of their main targets in the 1980s witch-hunt against the “loony left”, was in the 1990s a highly-paid columnist on Murdoch’s Sun, where, among other things, he criticised the official Labour election campaign in 1992 for proposing tax rises.
The Guardian did splendid work campaigning against the illegal activities of the Murdoch organisation. Its editor, Alan Rusbridger, commenting on the storm in which the Murdochs are caught up in, compared the public response to the revelations about Milly Dowler to the moment in a Bucharest square in 1989 when the crowd — first one person, then a few, then many more — began to boo the Stalinist dictator Ceaucescu, who fell from power soon afterwards.
This extraordinary but accurate comparison begs questions which Rusbridger did not tackle. For Ceaucescu emerged as dictator out of the murderous Stalinist state machine set up after World War Two by the Russian occupying army.
His power had depended on police, army, jails, torture chambers, firing squads — on physical repression and the pervasive threat of it and airtight censorship. And the power of the Murdochs? It depended on fear all through the establishment, and the belief that if people could “get in” with the Murdochs they could gain great advantages.
More than that: the power of money was and is the power behind the power that Murdoch exercised. Heir to a rich father, Rupert Murdoch built a powerful commercial sub-state within the state, more powerful than elected governments.
In varying ways and degrees that is what all the owners and controllers of the economic giants do.
Appearing before the House of Commons inquiry, as we go to press on 19 July, Rupert Murdoch took the line of monarchs immemorial when forced to admit to doing wrong. He was “badly advised” by underlings. He didn’t know. They never told him. His power was abused by others.
What the Murdoch scandal does is bring under public magnification and scrutiny the nature of bourgeois power, the relations of such power to bourgeois politics, their evisceration of bourgeois democracy on a day-to-day and year-to-year basis.
But bourgeois democracy is now vindicated? The Establishment is in the process of calling Murdoch to account? Is it?
Even if Murdoch is cut down; deprived of what he dearly wanted — full ownership of BSkyB, which the politicians would have let him have if the Dowler scandal had not broken out; forced in the USA (where the Murdoch operation is being investigated by the FBI) and in Britain to break up his empire — even then, nothing fundamental will be changed.
As in the Egyptian revolution of spring 2011, where the dictator fell but the power remained where it always was, with the armed forces, so also, no matter what happens to the Murdoch empire and the Murdoch family, private ownership of the media and of the economy in which we all live will continue.
Even if Murdoch’s 30 or 40% of Britain’s press is prised from him, private ownership of the press will continue, as will its employment in the interests of the bourgeoisie.
In the last reckoning the police will still serve bourgeois law and be hired thugs for Murdoch and other Murdochs in situations like Wapping.
Labour leader Ed Miliband has gone on an offensive but a very small one — brave when it was clear that being brave against Murdoch carried little or no immediate risk.
The unions should demand that the Labour Party mount a proper offensive, a creative and not just an opportunistic and reactive offensive, and an offensive not just against the Murdochs but against private ownership of the media on which the health or lack of it in the body politic depends.
They should press Miliband to demand a general election now. The Tories’ present one-point lead over Labour in the polls would mean little in a general election campaign.
A serious labour movement opposition would launch a crusade to drive the Tories and the Lib Dems from office, on a programme which would include sorting out the media once and for all by taking it out of the hands of the billionaires and into public ownership, under a system where the right of reply and response and public discussion was guaranteed.