LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s political class competed to “bow and scrape” before media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said on Tuesday, in comments aimed at setting his Liberal Democrats apart from the country’s two other main parties.
The Lib Dems, Britain’s third-largest party, has had relatively few dealings with Murdoch and his News Corp media empire, which paid them little attention until they came to power in 2010 as part of a coalition government.
Both the Conservatives, who head the coalition, and the opposition Labour party admit to getting too close to media proprietors such as Murdoch, owner of Britain’s best-selling Sun tabloid newspaper and the influential Times broadsheet.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair - who once likened the media to a “feral beast” - said on Monday leaders had to court media barons or risk savage press attacks.
“Almost the entire political class competed to bow and scrape in front of Rupert Murdoch. The whole thing was rotten, and it inevitably came crashing down,” Clegg said in extracts from a speech he is expected to make later on Tuesday at the opening of a summit tackling “Britain’s broken establishment”.
Voters have punished the centrist Lib Dems for joining the centre-right Conservatives in power. Analysts say that highlighting the Lib Dems’ distance from Murdoch could help give the party a much needed boost in the polls.
Allegations last year that a Murdoch-owned newspaper hacked the phone of a murdered schoolgirl triggered an investigation that lifted the lid on ties between politicians, police and the press, embarrassing both the Conservatives and Labour.
Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable was in 2010 secretly recorded saying he had “declared war” on Murdoch, and was subsequently stripped of his powers to review a News Corp bid for pay-TV operator BSkyB.
Clegg warned Prime Minister David Cameron against the appointment of former Murdoch newspaper editor Andy Coulson as the prime minister’s communications chief. Coulson has since resigned and been arrested as part of the phone hacking probe.
“We’ve got a track record over a number of years of being the awkward squad and taking on vested interests,” said a Lib Dem spokesman late on Monday. “Tomorrow is an event to reaffirm that commitment, and point out that while no one has completely clean hands, some hands are cleaner than others.”
Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; Editing by Mark Heinrich