Leading article: Labour has a case to answer over Murdoch

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The Independent Online

The phone-hacking scandal, as it has played out so far, has produced a whole spectrum of bad guys and suspected bad guys. They include, obviously, those convicted of phone-hacking and those suspected of phone-hacking; Rupert Murdoch; the News of the World and its former editor and news editor; the populist press in general; the Metropolitan Police for not investigating more assiduously; and David Cameron – both for appointing said former newspaper editor to his staff and for socialising over Christmas with key members of the Murdoch empire.

We have also heard much from aggrieved parties: the hacked, or those who believe they may have been hacked. That list has latterly been augmented by a succession of individuals from the Labour Party. Scarcely had it been reported that Gordon Brown had complained to Scotland Yard about possible phone-hacking, than he was joined by the former deputy prime minister, John (now Lord) Prescott, and Nick Brown MP, who said that hackers had tried to "out" him. In Saturday's Independent, another Labour MP, Tom Watson, called on the Met to release the information they have.

Clearly, Labour sees an opportunity to score points by painting the Prime Minister as being misguidedly "in bed" with Rupert Murdoch, both in the run-up to last year's election and now, as the decision approaches on control of BSkyB. And these would be legitimate issues for full-frontal political attack, were it not for one thing. Labour has not been exactly lily-white in its own relations with Mr Murdoch. As Opposition leader, Tony Blair flew half-way around the world to court the media tycoon; in power, New Labour was as susceptible to the dubious charms of the Murdoch media as the Conservatives appear now.

Labour's record should give Ed Miliband pause. There is certainly a case for him to make against the Conservatives and against Mr Murdoch, and against both together. But he will make it with authority only if he dissociates himself publicly with what went before. He could demonstrate that, under his leadership, the party will be in hock to no one. Such boldness could finally break the spell Rupert Murdoch has cast over British politics.