Politics: Hattersley joins fight to shackle Murdoch

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The Independent Online
The Labour revolt against the press power of Rupert Murdoch was yesterday joined by Lord Hattersley, the party's former deputy leader. Anthony Bevins and Paul Gilham report on the demand for a tougher competition law.

The battle lines for Monday's Lords vote on the Murdoch amendment were strengthened with a warning from Lord Hattersley that the international media magnate posed a threat to democracy.

Lord McNally, the Liberal Democrat spokesman who once served as Lord Callaghan's parliamentary aide at No 10, has put down an amendment to the Government's Competition Bill, offering specific protection for newspapers threatened by the predatory pricing being run by Mr Murdoch's Times.

The Government has imposed a three-line whip against the amendment, urging all Labour peers to vote against it.

Defying the whip, Lord Borrie, a former director general of fair trading and a director of Mirror Group, which owns a 46 per cent stake in The Independent, has backed Lord McNally's amendment. Yesterday, he was joined by Lord Ashley of Stoke, who said: "I very strongly support it. I will be voting that way."

In a rallying cry in the London Evening Standard, Lord Hattersley said last night: "I shall be voting with the rebels in the hope of curbing the ambitions of a ... tycoon who is a danger to our democracy. The sheer size of Murdoch's News Corporation ... gives him more power than it is right for one man to enjoy. And his predatory instincts guarantee that given the chance, he will push on towards his dream of media monopoly.

"If that happens, we could save the expense and tedium of a general election by simply asking Rupert Murdoch which prime minister he would prefer to see in Downing Street."

Lord McNally has said that the very existence of The Independent is threatened by the cut-price activities of the Times, which is also bleeding the finances of the Daily Telegraph.

Cabinet sources have told The Independent that ministers have been ordered by No 10 to do nothing to intervene in the press power-struggle. That would explain why ministers have said the present Competition Bill is adequate, while curiously arguing that they cannot be expected to anticipate its consequences.

But Lord Hattersley last night reminded Labour peers of Mr Murdoch's political track-record. "He offers his deadly embrace to the party he expects to win the general election and then waits for the warm glow of gratitude to ingratiate him with the victorious government."

He said that in the 1992 election, Labour threatened to force Mr Murdoch to divest himself of one of his newspapers or abandon part of his television empire.

"Now it seems that new Labour is prepared to accept the Rupert Murdoch plan for domination of the British media."