News of the World scandal gives Miliband a chance to shine

While the phone hacking scandal that led News of the World to shut its doors embroils Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband has seized the political - and moral - high ground.

Jeff Overs/BBC/Reuters
The leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, Ed Miliband, speaks on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, in London, on July 10.

The News of the World scandal continues to sweep through the British political landscape and Rupert Murdoch's media empire like a Biblical flood.

The effect of the phone hacking by the Murdoch-owned News Corp. of some 3,870 individuals – many of them ordinary people suffering tragedy – is being compared to pivotal events like Watergate and the Arab Spring.

However, one British politician who appears to be rising above the flood waters is Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. While the youthful Mr. Miliband is sometimes called geeky or wonky, he is widely seen as finding his voice in the current crisis.

Early on Miliband called for investigations as well as the sacking of Rebekah Brooks, former editor of News of the World (NotW) and now CEO of its parent company, News International. He says that Prime Minister David Cameron’s version of events regarding the employment of a former deputy NotW editor at 10 Downing St. “doesn’t add up.” He’s even brought a national laugh, saying that Britain’s Press Complaints Committee – which failed to deal with News Corp. in 2009 – was “established to be a watchdog. But it has been exposed as a toothless poodle…. It should be put out of its misery.”

Tonight, the crusading Miliband meets with Mr. Cameron and ruling coalition partner Nick Clegg on the specifics of two investigations into the hacking scandal, and will push for a wide-open look – not restricted to News Corp. – at press and police relations.

This week in Britain, the flood waters of the scandal that started with an expose of a murdered girl’s hacked phone continue to penetrate a culture of cozy relations between politicians, police, the criminal underworld, and media figures who paid police and inspired fear. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown now says that even his handicapped son’s medical records were promised by News Corp.

Where once the British public largely accepted, if not conformed to, a cynical tabloid mentality and to the king-making clout of Mr. Murdoch, now the public cries; "have you no shame?" The tables have turned.

The Murdoch news empire lost $3 billion in value in a matter of days. After surrounding himself with Murdoch allies, Cameron’s image is so at risk he didn’t show up in the House of Commons yesterday, leaving his culture minister to be cut apart by hacking questions. Cameron’s coalition partner, Mr. Clegg, is scurrying away from the encircling waters as fast as his legs will take him. The Home Affairs committee is already today questioning police officials about why a 2006 investigation into News Corp. practices was prosecuted so poorly.

In this scandal, Miliband is seen as articulating the public interest in larger moral terms. Unlike former Labour leader Tony Blair, Miliband is not seen as ensnared in a Murdoch relationship. He has brightened faces in his party with a withering but civil insistence on the floor of parliament demanding answers on questions about News practices.

“Ed Miliband has handled this absolutely correctly,” says Lord George Foulkes, a former member of parliament and friend of Gordon Brown.

Moreover, Miliband has seized the moral high ground by engineering a motion in the House of Commons tomorrow that will ask Murdoch and his son James Murdoch to withdraw their bid for a takeover of the BSkyB satellite TV firm. Both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have announced that they will vote for the nonbinding motion. But with public opinion swinging strongly against the BSkyB sale – a YouGov poll late last week showed 70 percent of the British public against the News Corp. takeover – the Lib Dems and Conservatives had little choice, despite Cameron's ties to Murdoch.

"I'm not going to throw around allegations," Miliband said yesterday, "but … what I'm saying is the prime minister has a whole series of unanswered questions on this issue.”

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