The death-knell for Murdoch’s BSkyB bid?
Quite a few of the Cabinet are still on a train trundling back to London from their Cardiff away day. Government ministers have been talking to each other throughout the journey, in contact with Whitehall too, trying to work out if they can avoid the embarrassment of getting the wrong side of public opinion on tomorrow’s Commons debate on Murdoch.
The result is that Ed Miliband’s motion (that it is in the public interest for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation to withdraw their bid for BSkyB) will now be backed by all the parties in the Commons.
Officials have been checking whether this was compatible with the “quasi judicial” role the government has in determining bids like the BSkyB takeover. Only yesterday, the Prime Minister tried to avoid expressing a government view by saying that IF he was running News Corp he’d withdraw the bid. His advice then was that he couldn’t go so far as to express an opinion. Under, no doubt, great pressure, that advice seems to have changed.
This must surely be the death-knell for the BSkyB bid? Murdoch doesn’t like being thwarted. If he is frustrated, some will wonder, how will he visit punishment on his tormentors? Close papers? Axe jobs?
The Murdochs have meanwhile been summoned to a Select Committee (the Culture Committee). Must they attend? Well foreign nationals are decidedly free of any compulsion – which covers Rupert and James Murdoch. Rebekah Brooks has declined earlier requests to attend without suffering any sanction.
In theory, Committees have the powers to summon individuals but as a Commons official put it to me “it is a dirty secret that the penal powers have so far fallen into desuetude that what exactly would happen is not clear”.
In this century, on the rare occasions when it has been pushed beyond normal invitations, the mere threat of a summons has tended to get the job done. That brought the Maxwell brothers to the Social Security Committee - the chair back then was Frank Field.
News just in: I wasn’t alone. The Culture Committee chairman himself, John Whittingdale, never thought the Murdochs would actually say “yes” .
But that’s the answer that bowled the committee over this afternoon. lt’s a measure of how serious the Murdochs still are about the bid, a moot point whether a family little used to robust interrogation will improve their public relations by introducing the family’s patriarch to this particular new experience in his 80th year.
More news just in: And now it seems the Murdochs may not be turning up at all.
The Culture Committee may have over-optimistically interpreted a reply from News Corp saying that the Murdochs and their allies would co-operate fully with the Committee’s inquiry. It certainly would be an extraordinary departure for Rupert M.