Notes From the Margins…

Partying with the Murdochs like it’s 1999

  • July 18, 2011
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The Mail on Sunday has published the guest list for Elizabeth Murdoch and hubby Matthew Freud’s  summer party, which took place at the Oxfordshire village of Burford on July 2, exactly twenty-four hours before the Milly Dowler phonehacking story went viral.

The Mail rather primly describes the ‘Chipping Norton Set’s last hurrah’ at Burford Priory as a ‘ party of decadent opulence and excess’ as though it were reporting on a gathering of the Hellfire Club.  But regardless of the moralising, the guestlist does provide an interesting snapshot of the overlap between politics and the media in contemporary Britain and the various moths who hovered in the dimming light of a criminal media empire, some of whom would turn into its most vociferous critics a only a few days after basking in its hospitablity.

This fascination happily crossed party lines.   Michael Gove, our intellectual Education Secretary and habitué of Annabels nightclub was there, which was only natural, since Gove likes hanging out with rich people and his wife Sarah Vine writes for the Times.  Nor can anyone be surprised by the presence of ‘Lord’ Mandelson, a politician who has rarely been able to contain his childlike awe of the wealthy, regardless of how such wealth was acquired.   Or Labour’s would-be welfare ‘reformer’ James Purnell, head of ‘left-leaning thinktank’ Demos, whose expenses scams as an MP once included   £247 expenses for 3,000 fridge magnets.

The guests also included Tessa Jowell, Shadow Minister for Olympics, accompanied by her crooked lawyer husband David Mills, Berlusconi’s former crony, from whom she was supposedly separated in 2006 – a separation that the more cynical attributed to a desire to salvage her own political career from her husband’s dodgy dealings.

In January this year,  the Guardian reported that Jowell had asked the police to investigate 28 occasions on which her phone had been hacked by the News of the World, and one can only assume that she was diplomatic enough not to raise these allegations with Elizabeth Murdoch or Rebekah Brooks and supped with a long spoon.

On the celeb/media side there is the brutish Jeremy Clarkson, an established member of the Chipping Norton set, and the equally ghastly Piers Morgan, a member of the Piers Morgan set.   Robert Peston,  the BBC’s well-connected business editor, is there of course, cutting a dash in his open-necked blue shirt – clearly unaware of the gathering storm that will lead some commentators to mutter darkly about his ‘inside track’ to News International.

It’s somewhat more surprising to find Jon Snow, Channel 4’s fearless interviewer and truth-seeking investigator, ligging it with the Murdoch/Freud set, but on second thoughts, maybe not.    And what has brought BBC director-general Mark Thompson and former director of programmes Alan Yentob to venture out from the metropolis to get on down with the Burfordites?

It presumably  wasn’t James Murdoch’s savage attack on the ‘dominant’ BBC in a talk at the Edinburgh Television Festival back in August 2009, in which the pot could be heard positively screeching at the kettle,  as he railed against the  BBC’s ‘chilling’ scope and media ambitions.

Thompson and Yentob would certainly have been aware of the irony – and indeed the laughable hypocrisy and absurdity – in Murdoch’s declaration that ‘The expansion of state-sponsored journalism is a threat to the plurality and independence of news provision’, and we can only assume that they were polite enough to control their guffaws on the night.

And then there are the women, the icing on the cake at this glittering Oxfordshire Versaille, in which politics, television, business, media, restaurants and celebrity effortlessly permeate each other in the new aristocracy of money that presides over the Big Society.   Kirsty Young, she of the faux-sincerity/pseudo-intimacy of Desert Island Discs, whose restaurateur husband did the cooking.  And the ineffable Mariella Frostrup,  the BBC’s voice of kultchah, who makes this listener at least want to reach for his revolver whenever he hears her smug, self-satisfied purring.

A good time was had by all.  There was dancing and brunching and joyriding the E-type Jag round the grounds, and no doubt a lot of networking, though Rebekah Brooks was apparently a little restless.  According to the Mail:

One witness said: ‘Usually, Rebekah flits around having a word with everyone. She loves being the centre of attention. But that night she spent nearly all her time with News International people.’

Unlike the other guests, Rupert Murdoch’s  flame-haired avatar clearly had other things on her mind.

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4 Comments

  1. mikey

    18th Jul 2011 - 8:55 am

    You say it so well Matt. What to do about them? is the question or will they all self combust?

    • Matt

      18th Jul 2011 - 9:20 am

      Well, they seem to be doing a pretty good job of imploding at the moment, with corruption and incompetence positively oozing from our ruling elites. Media scandals, banking crises, politicians expenses scandals, bent coppers, the eurozone unravelling, wars that can’t be won even if they aren’t explicitly lost, the US hovering on the point of debt default…the list goes on. Such crises aren’t necessarily terminal of course. What we need, are viable alternatives and viable political routes to realise them. And therein lies a question…

  2. miva

    18th Jul 2011 - 9:16 am

    Brilliantly observed Matt. Sometimes a group of people gather in a certain location and you flash a spotlight on them and you get a very revealing cross-section of what’s actually going down (or not going down) in a certain sector.

  3. John Porter

    18th Jul 2011 - 1:54 pm

    Wow, sounds like one of Tony Soprano’s parties. Less respectable though.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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