Monday, 27 August 2012

Fragments of Elisabeth Murdoch

Yes, yes, of course the full speech for the most part is nothing like the bits everyone has quoted, being mediaspeak incomprehensible to anyone else.  And it's easy to be cynical about the positive citations of "the best of the old Britain" and Lord Reith, Dennis Potter and Alan Bennett, easy to say that she's only saying that now the Olympics have put "Old Britain vs New Britain" if not to bed then at least taken it up the stairs, now it's safe, now some of the old battles and hatreds by which her father thrived don't feel quite so raw.  And yes it is blindingly obvious and realised by some of us long before it would have occurred to her that, once they had won all their battles and usurped the old paternalistic order in every part of British society, The Sun lacked the absolute purpose it had, rightly or wrongly, had from (say) 75-87 and Sky likewise lacked the purpose it had from (say) 89-95; because they weren't really for anything to anything like the extent they were against the older elites, they had nowhere left to go after their triumphs, and were simply the embodiment of a much greater problem that the new capitalism, defined by its piratical rebellion, reached once the Keynesians and the Reithians were the ones locked outside the party - a problem of self-definition which could only have ended in the crash (and is also shared by almost all the babyboomers Murdoch got rich by targeting in their young adulthood when nobody else dared).  But even though it isn't a (counter-)(counter-)revolution, it is the closest we've got so far to the "Suez moment" that suddenly became possible in July 2011.

Consider that Murdochism was, at heart, the radical Right claiming for its own purposes a set of anti-establishment ideas on democratisation and opening up of the media which had originated on the radical Left of the 1960s and 1970s (search any New Society from that era and you'll find similar language on media reform to the sections of the 1989 speech she now selectively quotes, without the naked-capitalist bits she leaves out).  Consider that much criticism of it from the Left, however well-meant, has appeared barely distinguishable from Tory paternalism in its attitude to working-class tastes, and has thus merely worked towards Murdoch's grand plan; to split and divide the Left by rendering it the true voice of fogeyism, inherently resistant to every aspect of the modern world, simply a stooge for the stuffy old buffers it once raged against.  Through accepting the legacy of the people her family has for so long caricatured, as though the only Britain that existed before '69 or '89 was the stuffiest, most class-ridden 10% (the idea that Potter and Bennett were indistinguishable from some fire-breathing shire colonel was the single greatest myth The Sun and Sky alike had to create to get where they got), Elisabeth Murdoch, probably without even knowing it, has opened the door for the Left - however reformist, however cautious - to reclaim ideas on organisation of the media and society which it originated and developed in the first place.  That has to be some kind of important moment, however compromised and shrouded.