Murdoch Woos Blair with Clandestine Dinner

Article excerpt

A period of sustained courtship appears to be under way between Tony Blair, the Labour leader, and Rupert Murdoch, the head of News International.

A source close to the Labour leadership yesterday confirmed that in September Mr Murdoch hosted a dinner in the private room of a London restaurant for Mr Blair. Both men's wives attended, along with Gus Fischer, the chief executive of News International. In addition, Mr Fischer has met Mr Blair "two or three times". He has also shown the Labour leader around the company's newspaper plant at Wapping.

Speculation that Mr Murdoch would be prepared to see his newspaper empire swing behind Labour began the previous month when he told the German magazine Der Spiegel: "I could even imagine supporting Tony Blair."

The source described the dinner as a "getting-to-know-you session". Politics was high on the agenda, including the state of the Conservative Party and Labour's prospects. The meetings with Mr Fischer, on the other hand, discussed "issues of mutual interest", suggesting media as well as political questions.

While the Sun's hostility may not have lost the Labour Party the 1992 general election (despite the paper's own claims), its stance did not help the party and Mr Blair is keen to ensure, if not outright support, then at least fair treatment next time round. News International, meanwhile, has its eye on a potential future government, as well as the review of cross-media ownership currently being carried out by Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for National Heritage.

Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's press secretary, said: "News International is a very important newspaper group and it would be absurd if we did not do all we can to get a fair hearing from them. …