LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s parliament celebrated victory over Rupert Murdoch Wednesday, breaking the spell which the Australian-born media mogul has held over the country’s politics for three decades.
Murdoch’s News Corp withdrew its $12 billion bid for full control of pay TV operator BSkyB a couple of hours before parliament met to demand with one voice that the takeover be scrapped because of phone hacking allegations engulfing a News Corp tabloid.
“The decision made by News Corp was not the decision they wanted to make,” said the often criticized Labor leader Ed Miliband, who has grown in stature during the crisis.
“This is a victory for parliament,” Miliband added to cheers from lawmakers on the green leather benches on both sides of parliament.
But the rare sense of unity evaporated when former Labor Prime Minister Gordon Brown delivered a lengthy speech in which he chided his successor David Cameron for not attending the debate and justified his own dealings with Murdoch’s businesses.
Murdoch’s company has incurred the public’s wrath and disgust after disclosures that journalists at its News of the World newspaper hacked into voicemails of victims of notorious crimes including a missing teenage girl later found murdered.
The story has eased the hold that Murdoch has held over British politics, dating back to the 1980s when he joined forces with Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to break the power of the trades unions.
It has become a rite of passage for British political leaders to cozy up to Murdoch, known as “The Dirty Digger.” Thatcher, Tony Blair and current Prime Minister David Cameron all received the Murdoch stamp of approval before they took office.
“All of us for far too long have been in thrall to some sections of the media,” Miliband said.
George Young, the Conservative leader of the lower house, echoed his comments, hailing a recovery for a parliament plunged into crisis two years ago by newspaper disclosures about the way lawmakers fiddled their expenses.
“No one can say now, as they did two years ago, that parliament is irrelevant,” Young said.
The Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition parties had agreed to back the Labor motion against the takeover, a show of unity rare in British peacetime politics.
Partisan politics resumed, however, when Brown, who has disappeared off the political radar since he lost power last May, rose to make a rare speech.
Brown has accused Murdoch-owned British newspapers of colluding with the criminal underworld to get access to his bank details and family medical files. He was angry in 2006 when The Sun published a story that his young son Fraser had the genetic disease cystic fibrosis.
Brown said News International, the UK arm of News Corp, had “bought and sold tears for commercial gain.” Brown socialized with News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks, a former editor at the center of the storm, but denied he was too cozy with the company.
“I say the relationship with them was always difficult because Labor had opposed their self-interested agenda,” Brown said to hoots of derision from government benches.
John Bercow, the speaker whose job it is to keep the house in order, railed like an angry headmaster as parliament lapsed into its confrontational old ways.
“Members will observe basic courtesies,” he bellowed during one angry exchange.
Outside of the palace, whose buildings date back 900 years to Anglo-Saxon times, there was a sense that the debate would indeed be a landmark one for what had become known as the “Fourth Estate” and its “power without responsibility.”
“There will have to be change but the development of social media means newspapers will have less of a role,” said Joey Rowlands, 19, a politics student from south London.
Speaking outside Westminster tube station, Rowlands said: “It’s about time there was a serious inquiry into how they got away with it for so long.”
Reporting by Keith Weir; Editing by Jon Boyle