Behind Closed DoorsThe Murdoch Soirée the Public Isn’t Party To
Under Boris Johnson, the press baron is back in town like hacking never happened, says Mic Wright
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Rupert Murdoch held a party this week. It’s unlikely you’ve heard much about it.
Beyond an aside in the Mirror’s report on the Conservative Party’s summer fundraising bash, which also took place on Monday night – “[Boris Johnson] was later spotted, along with much of the Cabinet, at Rupert Murdoch’s summer party at the Serpentine Gallery”.
And as a small item in the Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary – “… some went to the Conservative V&A summer party, but one said the best ticket was a Rupert Murdoch bash at the Serpentine. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and other ministers attended”.
The occasion went unreported. While it’s unsurprising that Murdoch’s own titles – The Times and Sun newspapers, as well as his radio and TV stations – failed to mention the event, it is curious that other outlets also ignored it so assiduously.
In June 2011, when the phone-hacking scandal was coming to the boil, the Guardian reported extensively on Murdoch’s party at the Orangery, which was attended by, among others, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.
The following month, William Shawcross – the author of a fawning biography of Rupert Murdoch – wrote in the Spectator: “Ed Miliband was beaming when I saw him talking to Rupert Murdoch at the media magnate’s summer party at the Orangery, Kensington Palace, just three weeks ago. The Labour Leader has since admitted that he did not raise the matter of phone-hacking that evening. Of course not! He was trying to charm.”
In Rupert Murdoch: A Reassessment, the Australian academic Rodney Tiffin wrote: “Murdoch’s annual London summer party was an ostentatious show of his power. Most prominent people in Britain wanted an invitation and felt obliged to attend, whatever they felt about Murdoch and his papers.”
Asked at the Leveson Inquiry whether Gordon Brown has attended his previous party, Murdoch replied: “Yes, I think so. Most people did.”
“Most people did.” And yet, a press that is well aware that the party took place has not deigned to tell its readers the individuals comprising “most people” at this year’s bash. It matters because we know that this is not just a jolly reception but a way for politicians to pay homage to Rupert Murdoch.
In the week after The Times memory-holed a story about Boris Johnson’s efforts to secure a £100,000-a-year job for his then mistress Carrie Symonds, we should know which politicians are availing themselves of such a powerful media proprietor’s hospitality.
After the Leveson Inquiry in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, Murdoch cancelled his 2012 party and there was a lull in his public demonstrations of power.
That ended in 2015 with a Christmas party at his London flat, which was attended by senior politicians and editors.
Jane Martinson wrote at the time: “[The] party, held at night and at home, may have been smaller but it marks Murdoch’s return to the centre of power more than almost anything else, the culmination of the process that has seen him regain his position at the top of British life.”
Besides Johnson, Gove and “much of the Cabinet”, we don’t know who else was at this year’s Murdoch party. Previous experience suggests that the guest list is likely to have included Keir Starmer and a significant number of the Shadow Cabinet. But we have to suppose that because rival newspapers and the broadcasters have not reported on it.
This silence allows secrecy and the manipulation of the public for private interest. While official meetings between ministers and the media are published – months after the fact, it must be said, and still, not all of them – lots of unofficial encounters are kept off the books. They include events like the Murdoch party.
The British press is fond of explaining that public figures must accept scrutiny but its proprietors are a group who still benefit from a level of outrageous secrecy. The absence of attention from Murdoch’s so-called rivals once again leaves the impression less of competition than a cabal.
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