I AM DEMENTED with glee to welcome, as an ally in this column's most obsessive cause, Sir Richard Branson. Regular skimmers of this page will have noted the frequent references to the amazing power exerted over Britain by Rupert Murdoch, but rather than anaesthetise you with more blethering about the News Corp-New Labour cabal that runs the country, let's celebrate Sir Richard's conversion to the cause. Let us also make it clear that it was only his fabled reticence that prevented Sir Richard highlighting the matter before last week, when Mr Murdoch ruined his plans to merge NTL with ITV.
Exactly why the man who controls a huge chunk of British newspaper circulation and television output was permitted to buy almost 20 per cent of the ailing network, purely to ensure that it remains weak and no threat to Sky, it feels futile to ask. The one consolation is that, even if we did have some competition law capable of nipping this embryonic commercial TV quasi-monopoly in the bud, Tony Blair and Tessa Jowell would have wasted no time exempting News Corp from it. And we may be equally confident that when Gordon Brown moves into possession of No 10, and if and when David Cameron follows him, both will also take possession of the holiday home Mr Blair has enjoyed for so long - the one located two inches to the south of Mr Murdoch's colon.
If Sir Richard cares to put his money and his mouth behind a movement lobbying for legislation to end such democratic highlights as Mr Murdoch dictating British policy on Europe, I and others would be overjoyed to publicise its work week after week after week.
As for the decision to abandon publication of If I Did It, OJ Simpson's book on how he would have killed his wife had someone not beaten him to the punch, it's important to acknowledge what drove Mr Murdoch to take it. Let's never forget that he's a born-again Christian whose deep religious beliefs inform every aspect of his life. For as Jesus himself said: "Lo, verily shalt thou censor the scrolls, speak they of Chinese human rights abuses or hypothetically icing the missus, without thought for the commercial implications, but because it is the way of thine heart (Matthew, 4, viii)."
Not everyone agrees that Rupert Murdoch is a malign influence, and Jeff Randall was quick to ridicule the Branson attack in his Daily Telegraph business column. Jeff is famously on the friendliest of terms with Mr Murdoch (he even wangled a rare interview with him for his Five Live show), and whether he might have followed my colleague Stephen Glover's example and declared an interest is entirely a matter for him.
* THANKS TO THOSE of you who have e-mailed a quote in response to last week's appreciation of David Aaronovitch's Times article that dismissed as childish fools those who regard our politicians as a bunch of mendacious rogues. Here is the quote, from a Guardian piece under David's own byline in April 2003, a few weeks before the invasion. "If nothing is eventually found, I - as a supporter of the war - will never believe another thing that I am told by our government, or that of the US ever again," wrote David. "And, more to the point, neither will anyone else." Ah well, they say consistency is a virtue of the mediocre mind.
* ANY OF YOU looking for a stocking filler for a football lover this Christmas is hereby directed to Hold The Back Page! Football's Tabloid Tales by that workaholic seeker of exclusive back page leads Harry Harris - an entrancing collation of snippets, in alphabetical order, about all the football and media folk Harry has known. We may dip into it in the weeks ahead, but for now here's an hors d'oeuvre. "Lord Herman Ouseley, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality: Herman has been extremely active as the leader of the Kick It Out campaign to eradicate racism from the national sport ... It is an issue upon which I have told him that he will have my total support and commitment." That'll mean the world to him, Harry, what with you working for those anti-racist powerhouses, the Star and The Express.
* FINALLY, AND WITH regret, I must rebuke my favourite columnist, Jon Gaunt of The Sun, for a savage attack on the police. Unleashing the full might of his forensic intellect on the question of whether a teenage boy who sleeps with a pubescent underage girl should come under the same header of paedophile as the groomer of seven-year-olds, and concluding that he most certainly should, Gaunty has a right old pop at Chief Constable Terry Grange, who suggested the distinction.
The problem, I think, is that very much like Esther Rantzen, the lachrymose Gaunty simply cares too much. Even so, this sort of attack is offensive to officers who risk their lives to keep us safe, and to such relatives of theirs as my friend Simon Heffer. What possessed Gaunty to play the metrocentric, smart-arse, police-bashing liberal graduate like this I can't imagine, but I do not expect to see it again.Reuse content