The week in politics: A seismic shift in Britain's balance of power

Another tough week for "tired" Rupert Murdoch
Another tough week for "tired" Rupert Murdoch. Photo: Getty Images

The past is a foreign country, so they say. If that's true, even being transported to last Monday would give time-travellers a massive dose of culture shock.

By Alex Stevenson

So much has changed in the last five working days, even since the final edition of the News of the World sold 4.5 million copies on Sunday, that the start of the week feels like a very, very long time ago.

On Monday morning, News International was pressing ahead with its £10 billion bid for BSkyB. David Cameron was a staunch defender of the Murdoch media empire. And
the idea that the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks might give evidence to a Commons select committee was pie in the sky.

On all three fronts the forces of the establishment spent the week in full retreat. Murdoch pulled the rug from under Jeremy Hunt's feet on Monday by forcing him to refer the BSkyB bid to the Competition Commission. Ed Miliband, who in political terms is having a good phone-hacking scandal, tore the culture secretary to shreds.

It was the Labour leader's decision to push the issue to a Commons vote on Wednesday which forced David Cameron's hand. Bowing to public opinion, the prime minister joined Labour and the Lib Dems in opposing the BSkyB bid. Before MPs even began debating the motion that was eventually passed without a vote, prospects for expansion into Sky's huge pay-TV market had been definitively dashed. It was a huge victory for parliament - even if Gordon Brown's contribution did inject a little more partisanship than was to everybody's taste.

Thursday saw another defeat for the Murdoch empire, as they tried to wriggle out of appearing before a Commons select committee next Tuesday. It took a rarely-used summons before they finally agreed to attend, setting up the tantalising prospect of Tom Watson and co putting their allegations forward face-to-face.

You'd have thought that was enough news for one week. But no, not when it comes to this behemoth of a scandal. After days and days of building pressure News International chief executive Brooks finally stepped aside, the biggest casualty so far. She may not yet be the last.

Let's not forget, too, the brief respite which the Murdochs enjoyed on Tuesday. Then attention was on the Metropolitan police's failings, which were made plain when senior officers who had made questionable decisions over phone-hacking in recent years gave evidence to the Commons' home affairs committee. "We are astonished," chair Keith Vaz said at one stage. That just about summed it up.

In other news - was there any other news, this week? - an inquiry into the 1994 Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash cleared two RAF pilots; David Cameron launched a white paper on public services reform as overlooked as it was delayed; and it emerged that one-third of universities were charging the top £9,000 rate for tuition fees on all their courses.

But you weren't really concentrating on those, were you? 


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