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The 'temple' of Rupert Murdoch

world Updated: Jul 19, 2011 00:00 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar
Hindustan Times
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For decades, British political leaders have sought the support of newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch - the ones that are being derided today. In varying degrees, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and even Gordon Brown have all worshipped at the temple of Murdoch.

Why show such obeisance to a man whom, quite plainly, very few leaders really like? Because they think that it is the Murdoch press, rather than the people of Britain that decide the outcome of elections. It is a very cynical view of the world's oldest democracy.

In June 1995 Blair, running for premiership, was invited, through The Times editor Peter Stothard, to address Murdoch's News Corporation conference in Australia.

Blair recalled, "Not to go was to say carry on and do your worst, and we know their worst was very bad indeed. No, you sat down to sup; or not. So we did."

But do we really know that Murdoch would ditch him if he didn't go? Surely, Murdoch would have known already that he was backing the right horse - after the shambles of Major's last years, the youthful Blair chimed in with the readers of the Murdoch papers.

The spectre of Murdoch - real or imagined - surfaces again at the close of his premiership in 2007. There was no contest for Labour leadership - John Reid would have been a contender but, says Blair, the Murdoch papers wrote him off "at Rupert's instigation…. This is where Gordon's strategy of tying up Rupert and (Daily Mail editor Paul) Dacre really paid off - any likely contenders didn't get a look-in…"

According to the 'third man' of New Labour, Peter Mandelson, Brown was utterly spooked by the decision of Sun editor Rebekah Brooks to back David Cameron at the 2010 election.

"He was convinced that a deal had been struck between Cameron's team and the Murdoch media, with political dividends for the Tories and commercial ones for the Murdoch empire."

But Mandelson, as always, has a finger on the pulse. The real reason, he tells us, is this: "The Sun was a mass-market paper. It saw its interests as backing a winner."