British newspaper publishers love prime ministers. Conversely, prime ministers love publishers. That is, if the publisher in question owns a national newspaper with a big circulation (often in the millions).
You cannot get into the club if you only own, say, the Lewisham Borough News. This is an exclusive club for those who wield real, palpable power: Witness the scandal of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. in Britain today.
The club has been operating for more than 200 years. But it was at the turn of the 20th century, with ever-expanding voter rolls, that the intimacy became really intense. Victorian prime ministers had to put up with editors and owners of journals of opinion, like The Spectator or Punch, and sometimes The Times.
Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and his Liberal rival, William Gladstone, bargained with the media of their day. But these did not sway huge swathes of the electorate in the way that was to come. General education produced millions of avid readers and improved printing technology, notably the Linotype machine, made large mass- circulation newspapers possible.
Two brothers, Vere Harmsworth and his more colorful sibling, Alfred, were the first big-time press barons. In time, they were rewarded with titles: Alfred became Lord Northcliffe and Vere, Lord Rothermere.
It is unlikely that all of the prime ministers — and all of them had to deal with the press barons — really liked the intimacy. These men mostly had huge egos, daunting agendas, and their friendship always came with a price. So, of course, did the friendship of the politicians. They sought support in elections and freedom from scrutiny in governing.
Part of the price was usually the peerage, but then there were other considerations. Lord Beaverbrook, a Canadian, wanted prime ministers to endorse his campaign for “Empire Free Trade.” Others had other interests; but the tariffs on newsprint, the subsidy of cable traffic (which made getting news from overseas cheaper), and subsidized postal rates for newspapers and periodicals were common to all.
Northcliffe lectured World War I Prime Minister Lloyd George on how to run the war — and everything else. Beaverbrook treated Lloyd George’s successor, Bonar Law, a fellow Canadian, as his surrogate in government and campaigned for him relentlessly.
After that, Beaverbrook turned his demonic energies to supporting Winston Churchill — even though Churchill was at a low period during much of the1930s. Not only was the man who was to be Britain’s greatest prime minister out of power, he was also out of money.
The newspaper proprietors, in surprising unity, came to Churchill’s aid. Churchill boasted that he made 1 million pounds from his articles in one year and retired his debts. That was an astounding amount of money, and it reflected the fact that the newspaper bosses were overpaying him enormously, according the historian A.J.P. Taylor.
The leading paymasters were Beaverbrook, who owned the Daily Express and the Evening Standard, and Brendan Bracken, the Irishman who owned the Financial Times. In Churchill they saw potential, a lively contributor, and someone who gave the best dinner parties in England. Bracken even encouraged rumor that he was Churchill’s illegitimate son, although he knew this was nonsense.
The cultivating of prime ministers was an ecumenical affair. Cecil Harmsworth King, who ran Mirror Group Newspapers in the 1960s, lectured Prime Minister Harold Wilson on everything, including his own somewhat ridiculous idea that Britain needed a bipartisan national government — as in wartime — to get it out of his its financial difficulties. Rupert Murdoch went all out for Margaret Thatcher. But he turned against her successor, John Major, and supported the Labor Party and Tony Blair. Gordon Brown failed to get Murdoch’s nod, but current Prime Minister David Cameron did. The rest, as they say, is history.
When television came along, the proprietors had a new incentive to cultivate prime ministers: licenses. The big winner here was the least pushy of the publishers, Roy Thomson, another Canadian, who owned The Times. He got the license to run commercial television in Scotland and became Lord Thomson. Like Murdoch, Thomson did not crave the company of prime ministers. He was happy to let others carry his requirements to the men in power. Murdoch has used various intermediaries, including the American economist and free-market ideologue Irwin Stelzer.
Is it all over now? Will prime ministers shun the company of media barons?
Will the sun rise in the East tomorrow? — For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate
MAASTRICHT, Netherlands — The English like to say, from an old music hall song, “a little of what you fancy does you good.” Well, so does a smidgeon of socialism.
Shock horror! Alert Dick Armey, inform Rudy Giuliani and let Rupert Murdoch know. Heresy is dangerous, and the correct authorities should be informed.
Like most people who rail against European socialism, those three have been the beneficiaries of some largesse that might be described as socialistic.
Armey, who is leading the tea bag revolution and who talks of the socialist threat as though a fleet were coming up the Potomac to sack Washington, is the beneficiary of the rights, honors and money that come from being a former congressman, all the way down to a handsome health care package.
Then there is Giuliani, who presided over the second most liberal city in the United States, after San Francisco, added to its amenities and improved America’s largest subway system. Notably, he did not end rent control, now known as “rent stabilization,” nor did he end a plethora of liberal services available in New York. Yet if the former mayor, who wanted to be president, wants to denigrate something, he utters the “s” word.
Murdoch is special. He has played footsie with the Gordon Brown Labor government in London; played up to the Communist Chinese; cooed over the Clintons and booed ideas of assistance to the media; and employed a staff at Fox Cable News who are devoted to castigating Europe and its left-of-center democracies. Worse, Murdoch has benefitted over the years from various government subsidies including the Commonwealth Press Cable Rate, which moved news inexpensively around the world before the Internet. And he has never cried out against second-class postage, another huge government subsidy to publishers.
OK, socialism, even the mild kind favored here in the Netherlands, isn’t the promised land of governance; but it produces, at the street level, some pretty agreeable result. Scads of American visitors groove on the country’s parks, public toilets, bike paths and buses that are easy to use.
This small city of about 200,000 bears its medieval history with pride and its socialist amenities with grace, from miles of bike paths to trains that can whisk you to the next hamlet or to Hamburg, Germany.
Travel to a nearby major city, like Amsterdam, Brussels or Paris, and Europe is yours with its high-speed trains that crisscross the continent at 200 mph, and even plunge under the English Channel to London’s St. Pancras Station, a masterpiece which has been restored to its Victorian glory.
London itself adds public amusements with pride. Three recent ones are the Ferris wheel, known as the London Eye; the foot bridge across the Thames, nicknamed the “wobbly bridge”; and the New Tate, an art gallery in an old power station.
You can put this down to the kind of post-socialism that former British prime minister Tony Blair (a Murdoch man) described as “social-ism;” not the old-school, “Keep the Red Flag Flying” socialism, but the idea that people are entitled to services beyond national defense. A good question for Giuliani might be: “Would you have approved the building of Central Park?”
Where socialism–lite has failed in Europe is in an excess of regulation, particularly the rigidity it has brought to hiring and firing. This has kept small business in Europe operating at the mom-and-pop level, scared to hire because in most European countries firing is subject to a labor tribunal’s approval. Approval seldom comes.
One of the great drivers of entrepreneurism in the United States is the harsh but effective idea that employees serve “at will.” That, the socialists can’t stomach. They want Paradise enow.
A little socialism will do–and we needn’t mention single-payer health care.