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A Brief History of Britain’s Power Elites: through Murdoch and beyond?

War with Hitler’s Germany spelled the end for Britain’s old power elite. A new political class emerged, including the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. Now the Murdochs are revealed in their true colours: as aggressors at the head of a global empire. So what now for the collapsing British state?
Michael Cassio
25 July 2011

At Munich in 1938 the ruling elites capitulated to a rising fascist menace in Europe. They did this in order to preserve their status and power and they also wrongly gambled that Hitler, and to a lesser extent Mussolini, would preserve the status quo and shore up Europe's defences against the Bolshevik threat from the east. In Britain, entering the twilight years of Empire, there was widespread relief that war had at least been postponed for a while. As we all know it was a useless betrayal of the Czechs that merely postponed the inevitable. Within 18 months the country was at war: a war that destroyed the British Empire and irreversibily impaired the wealth and status of the ruling elites in Britain.

Murdoch with Thatcher, 1991. Image: AP Photo/Mike Albans

In July 2011 and  following a long process of attrition, the destruction of the power of this elite and of the institutions that reflected their ideology is virtually complete. How has this come about?

The remarkable thing about Britain in the post war period had been the relative independence of its institutions.  Its judiciary and the BBC in particular were widely admired throughout the world for their impartiality.  True, the signs of the decaying political structure were evident even in the 1950s with the complete failure of the political class to invisage a role for Britain in the atomic or now nuclear age.  The 1960s shook  the establishment with all the force of an earthquake.  The old moral certainties and Victorian values that had underpinned the country were suddenly being questioned.  This coincided with a great economic decline that was, for a time at least, belied by a consumer boom and the feel-good factor of voodoo economics.  

What happened in the '80s was interesting.  The power structure in Britain had all but collapsed. But this was not evident, as a generation of liberals and baby-boomers from the 1950s and '60s, who had a totally different moral outlook on the world, were now in positions of power and authority in the institutions of the state.  In effect they absorbed the state, or what was left of the old British state, into the new worldview.  It was becoming cool Britannia and not rule Britannia.  Baroness Thatcher represented a worldview that had now vanished and the power of the new liberal elite was confirmed when Tony Blair became prime minister in the 1990s.    

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One of the key outlets for the promotion of the ideology of the new elite was of course the media and, in that connection, Thatcher had handed control of the most important publication of the day - The Times - to a rising newspaper mogul called Rupert Murdoch. He was becoming a great power in world media and by the late 1990s he had achieved a power and status equivalent to old nation-states. Murdoch's new global state knew no boundaries and was able to plug into any floating sovereign state and manipulate its media outlets, corrupting its public officials and politicians and projecting its power into the law enforcement agencies and turning them into an arm or arms of its global structure. This is all now being starkly revealed in Britain. 

In short, the collapsing British state is being exposed to the world as a mere appendage to the Murdoch global empire.  For the implications of this to become clear, along with a detailed morphology and physiology of this organism that has invaded the British body politic, we must await further articles and analysis. Only a very brief indication can be given here in a few sketch notes.  But here are the basics. In 1938, Britain was threatened by a fascist aggressor from the outside. Now, in July 2011, the country is being threatened by an aggressor working from the outside inside.  I suggest the outlines are pretty clear.

Peter Geoghegan: dark money and dirty politics

Democracy is in crisis and unaccountable flows of money are helping to destroy it. Peter Geoghegan’s new book, ‘Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics’, charts how secretive money, lobbying and data has warped our democracy.

How has dark money bought our politics? What can be done to change the system?

Join us for a journey through a shadowy world of dark money and disinformation stretching from Westminster to Washington, and far beyond.

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In conversation:

Peter Geoghegan Dark Money Investigations editor at openDemocracy and the author of ‘Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics’.

Mary Fitzgerald Editor-in-chief, openDemocracy.

Who is bankrolling Britain's democracy? Which groups shape the stories we see in the press; which voices are silenced, and why? Sign up here to find out.

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