The PM, the mogul and the secret agenda | Media | The Observer
Nor does he respect intellectual lightweights, a category in which he currently places Cameron. Another well-placed News International source says all the Tory leader has managed so far is a ‘smallish lead in the polls’: he remains an unknown quantity, a view Murdoch reflected yesterday by dubbing Cameron bright but ‘totally inexperienced’. The Tory leader’s wealthy background may also be an issue – Murdoch’s inner circle prefers self-made men.
By contrast Murdoch admires Brown’s intellect, but fears his instincts for state regulation and redistributive taxes, and considers him over-cautious. ‘He admires Gordon’s work ethic, and he’s seen as intellectually attractive,’ says the source. ‘Whether he’s courageous or not, is not known. He has not grasped any nettles. And we don’t know where he stands on Iraq.’
This matters: Blair’s Pebble Beach pass is partly a salute to his support for the war. Murdoch believes fundamentally in strong defence and law and order, small government, and low taxes: he would only support a candidate sceptical on Europe, committed to the war on terror, and free market-orientated enough not to threaten his business interests.
In his book The Spin Doctor’s Diary, Lance Price, Downing Street’s former director of communications, portrayed a one-sided relationship hyper-sensitive to Murdoch’s whims – including the suggestion that Blair bought the Sun’s support in 2001 by promising not to rush into the euro. ‘Whenever any really big decisions had to be taken, I had the impression that Murdoch was always looking over Blair’s shoulder,’ Price says. He recalls constantly ‘rushing into the Home Office’ because Sun headlines about rising crime or asylum chaos had upset Blair, and says he was left with ‘the pretty clear impression’ that discussions with the Murdoch camp had dictated the handling of the single currency.
Without that pressure, would Blair have held the euro referendum he wanted? ‘I think if there hadn’t been Murdoch there, he would have felt braver and more able to follow his instincts. It was certainly under consideration for early in the second term. The fact that there wasn’t one is a credit to Rupert Murdoch rather than to anyone else,’ Price said.
It is a drastic charge, that Murdoch altered the course of history and the economy. News International sources certainly confirm that Anji Hunter, then the Prime Minister’s gatekeeper and key custodian of the Murdoch relationship – alongside Alastair Campbell, head of strategy, and chief of staff Jonathan Powell – clearly signalled in 2001 there would be no early referendum, as did the Chancellor’s envoy, Ed Balls.
The foreign secretary, Robin Cook, was not in this loop. ‘I always took the view that Tony Blair’s real Europe minister was [Sun political editor] Trevor Kavanagh,’ says Cook’s then special adviser, David Clark.