STRONG AND STABLE?

We are used to right wing bias in the capitalist press. The hysterical response of the Daily Express to news that we would not be putting up candidates in the forthcoming general election was an extreme but not untypical example. Tory MPs were quoted by The Express as warning that our support was a sign of how extreme Labour had become under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Amanda Milling, the nervous Tory MP for Cannock Chase (majority only 4,923) bleated:

“Let this sink in: Jeremy Corbyn has been endorsed today by a party who want   to close down businesses, leave the protection of Nato and hike up  taxes to a level never seen before in this country.”

One and a half out of three, Amanda!

Yes, we do want to quit Nato whose original purpose was to contain the former USSR and whose purpose now is to confront Russia by rolling our tanks and missiles up its borders. Yes, we want to hike up taxes on the likes of Richard Desmond, owner of Express Newspapers, who employs trusts and holding companies located in Guernsey to avoid paying UK tax. No we don’t want to ‘close’ businesses, but we do want to see their employees treated fairly and with respect, represented by trade unions with negotiating rights and given a say in the running of the business, with public ownership as an option where the so-called ‘business’ is actually a public service.

Jeremy Corbyn is a decent, principled politician with deep socialist convictions, but he’s not obviously a Marxist; and he’s certainly not a communist. Our programme would go much further as it’s aimed at creating a society run by those who do the work, not those whose families have accumulated the proceeds of other people’s work. Corbyn may not share our entire world-view; but compared with a prime minister who wants to starve state education while promoting grammar schools, privatise the NHS and who confesses to being willing to commit mass murder by launching a retaliatory nuclear attack, he’s well worth supporting.

Strong and stable government under May? For the few, perhaps, but not for the rest of us.

Demise of The Independent

News that The Independent is to close in March, lingering on only as a phantom, digital only, newspaper, should shake any lingering view that we enjoy in the UK a free and independent press. But how significant is this development?

The Independent has long since dropped from its masthead the claim to be “free from party political bias, free from proprietorial influence”. The former claim was always problematical – a free press in this country demands some political bias as a counterweight to that exerted in favour of the Tories by most of our media, including the BBC. The latter claim was clearly unsupportable after the newspaper was acquired in 2010 by the Russian Oligarch Alexander Lebedev who also, by then, owned the London Evening Standard. Although following Lebedev’s acquisition  The Independent never sunk to the level of anti-working class vindictiveness employed by the Standard, it failed to respond to the opportunity presented for progressive politics by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader and it has failed to take the lead in opposing the government’s attacks on working class interests such as trade union rights, housing, education and the NHS. With the Guardian mired in Blairite nostalgia, it has been left to the tiny (but perfectly formed)  Morning Star to lead on this. It could therefore be argued that the loss of The Independent doesn’t really matter. There is, however, another way of looking at its pending disappearance.

The Independent has around a 5% share of the readership of printed newspapers. Assuming this is acquired pro-rata by the remaining newspapers, it will leave 73%  controlled by four multi-millionaires: Rupert Murdoch (Sun and Times), Lord Rothermere (Mail and Metro) both with 29% each; Richard Desmond (Express and Daily Star) with 10%; and the Barclay Brothers (Telegraph) with 5%. Of these, only Richard Desmond lives in this country – yet they all exert tremendous influence over the UK government and its social policies and tax regime.

In any other situation where 73% of the market was controlled by four individuals, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), successor to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), would step in and the result would probably be enforced divestment. This would, however, require evidence of exploitation of market power and this is notoriously difficult to prove with newspapers as the benefit of ownership is not in the dividends received. Billionaires, even ones called Rupert, don’t make their billions from owning newspapers, they own newspapers to protect the billions they have made (or, in the case of Lord Rothermere, inherited). Lebedev’s closure of The Independent was not because it has not been yielding him sufficient monetary dividends, it was because it was no longer yielding him enough political dividends.

Regulatory agencies will never intervene to provide the truly free press we need. It can only be provided by government action to require national newspapers to be owned collectively by their readers. If the Morning Star can do it, so can the rest. But such government action will never be forthcoming under a Tory, or even a social democrat government. The remedy, as always, is a socialist government or, best of all, a social revolution led by the communists.