From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes


In 1986, Rupert Murdoch was, as now, at the centre of a raging political storm. He was in the process of breaking the power of the print unions irrevocably during the “Battle of Wapping” industrial dispute – an early demonstration of the totally ruthless, diamond-hard ambition which has brought him to where he stands today.

But, back then, he wasn’t the only press baron cum tycoon with those initials bestriding business and politics in the UK. Robert Maxwell, the Czechoslovakian born, ex-Labour MP and owner of the Daily Record, Sunday Mail and Daily Mirror was the other big beast in the arena. Ebullient, highly opinionated and a great self-publicist, Maxwell was much the larger “personality” of the two and could always be relied on for good copy.

Robert Maxwell

In July 1986, Stewart McRobert interviewed him for the Sentinel. At the time, Maxwell had been brought in to chair the Commonwealth Games fund raising committee amid concerns that the Games, due to take place in Edinburgh later in the year, were heading for financial disaster. The bulk of the article concerned those funding problems and how they were being tackled, (in fact, according to Maxwell, they had already been largely solved thanks to his leadership).

Throughout the interview, Maxwell is in top form, grandly confident in himself and his abilities. Here’s just a wee snippet to convey the flavour of it:

Question: “Will the sporting success you have had with Oxford United [ he owned the football club] continue with these Games?

Answer: “Well, I am a winner and certainly intend that that shall be the case. That is in fact a good comparison and I thank you for reminding me about it.”

In the second half of the interview, the spotlight is turned on the newspaper industry. Maxwell is asked about Wapping and how the dispute could be resolved. Perhaps revealing the fundamental dissimilarity between him and the other RM, Maxwell opts for negotiation as the only way forward:

“I’ve always believed that this dispute can and must be resolved by an agreement between the trade unions and Mr Murdoch. There is no other way. In a free society you cannot have a total victory and a total vanquished. You have to have a compromise and a settlement.”

On the other hand, quizzed about whether the powers of the Press Council should be strengthened to shut down a paper “like the Sun” if it were found to have “made up stories”, he is agin it. “Our press is not perfect” he admits, but thinks investigation into malpractice “would be very difficult to do”.

Just over five years after this, Maxwell, his wealth and his reputation were no more. He died, in obscure circumstances, falling overboard from his yacht, in November 1991. After his death, his business empire quickly collapsed and it was found that he had siphoned off hundreds of millions of pounds from his employees pension funds to avoid bankruptcy.

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