The Media Column: The Times Particularly Favours Writers Who Claim to Be Left-Wing but Hold No Discernible Left-Wing Views. This Allows Rupert Murdoch to Have His Cake and Eat It

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Tony Blair's troubles get worse. The Blairite apologist Stephen Pollard has joined the deserters. Pollard is one of those mysterious commentators--Oliver Kamm is another--who claim to be left-wing but hold no discernible left-wing views. Such writers are particularly favoured by the Times, presumably because they allow Rupert Murdoch to have his cake and eat it: he stays onside with the party in power by giving space to its alleged supporters, but keeps his papers ideologically on the right.

Pollard has long hailed Blair as the ideal Labour leader because he favours wealth creation and competition. That may sound like a Tory to you and me, but let it pass. He and Kamm both voted Labour in last year's election because they saw it as "a referendum on the veracity, judgement and ethics of the Prime Minister".

Pollard used to be an NS contributor. Then we ran a cover headed "Dictator of Downing Street", with a picture of Blair made up to look like Stalin. It was to illustrate a piece by the Oxford historian Robert Service, who drew a parallel between the PM's governing style and that of the Soviet dictator, though obviously not between the numbers they had murdered. Pollard said that, after this disgusting calumny, he would never darken our pages again. I (then editor) replied that I was sorry he had become so pompous. A few years earlier, he had used the first letter of each paragraph in his final Express column to spell out a rude message to the paper's proprietor, Richard Desmond. He was due to join the Times staff as a leader writer but this was considered inappropriate conduct for such an august position, and Pollard had to resign before he started.

Now this admirable mischief-maker was denouncing my mischief. Yet his latest piece, in last Monday's Daily Mail, compared Blair to Richard Nixon--not Stalin, admittedly, but bad enough. The cash-for-honours affair is unfolding rather as Watergate did, he argued: trivial misdemeanours by people of slight importance lead to a scandal that engulfs the top man. Blair, wrote Pollard, was "up to his neck" in it, and held "the country in contempt". It is as if Eva Braun had deserted Hitler (just kidding, Stephen).

The Prime Minister has some crumbs of comfort, however. After a brief wobble, his hagiographer John Rentoul, of the Independent on Sunday, is back onside. The honours business is just a "media hoopla" he informs us, and Blair's main problem is "to hold off the growing weight of our abiding culture of cynicism". …