Since the last General Election many of the heavy weights that dominated the New Labour political landscape have left the frontline of British politics. David Miliband, Alistair Darling, Alan Johnson, Jack Straw and of course Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown all stood down from Ministerial positions. This exodus followed the departure of people like John Prescott and John Reid who stood down when Tony Blair resigned as Prime Minister in 2007. This provided a welcome opportunity for new blood to come through – but it also intensified a talent deficit that is apparent right across Westminster as Labour lost a great deal of its front bench talent and institutional memory. The sheer dominance of Blair and Brown over the last twenty years has stifled the development of top class politicians. As a result, Ed Miliband’s Cabinet over the last twelve months has had a mixed record and has been relatively lacklustre in holding the Conservative government to account.
The revelations and high drama relating to the Murdoch empire has dominated the news both in the United Kingdom and further afield. It is the ultimate irony that the fallout from the illegal and immoral invasion of privacy to sell ‘news’ is in fact fuelling the sale of more newspapers and more ad revenues for the broadcasters.
Despite this, the debate over hacking and the News of the World has rightfully spread, first to the issue of media, politics and ethics, and then to the further erosion of public trust in the British establishment. However, I cannot help but feel that many are still missing the point. The events of the past few weeks feeds into an even wider debate, a debate that will inevitably come to dominate the civil rights agenda in the twenty-first century: the issue of privacy.
The events of the last 72 hours have been truly remarkable. The exposure of a corrupt culture at the heart of the British media; the perverse and systematic intrusion by Fleet Street into the lives of people affected by tragedy; the closure of the world’s biggest selling English-language newspaper; and the arrest of the Prime Minister’s right hand man for the past five years. All are astounding developments in and of themselves. However, combined they are producing the biggest political story for a generation that is starting to put the coalition government’s long term future in serious doubt.