Watching Brief: If You Want to Know Exactly What Tony Blair's Intentions and Tactics Are, Keep a Very Close Eye on the Sun's Headlines and Editorials. (Columns)

Article excerpt

At least one crucial diplomatic relationship has survived war with Iraq -- the Prime Minister still stands shoulder to shoulder with the Sun. Since 3 March, when it splashed with "War in ten days", we knew it was all over bar the shooting. In the end it was only the French who threw a baguette in the works and delayed the preferred timetable. Rupert Murdoch's red-top has been a consistently accurate record of Tony Blair's intentions and his tactics.

On 14 March, the paper's "Spot the difference" front page, with pictures of Saddam and Chirac over the headline "One is a corrupt bully who is risking the lives of our troops...sneering at Britain...endangering world peace. The other is Saddam Hussein", was a perfect execution of the government's attack strategy on France to divert attention from its own diplomatic failures. The tabloid followed this on 17 March with "Game over"; then, the following day, with: "Green light for war", with an excoriating attack on what most believed to be a fine and principled exit from government by Robin Cook.

Blair rewards the Sun for its loyalty by giving it the news first. And sometimes he uses the red-top to shape events, as with the countdown to war and the original "ten days" headline. It remains to be seen if the Sun can pull off Blair's ultimate wish and get its nine million readers to support his war.

The media tide against the war is turning, with the Daily Mail and even the Daily Mirror now focusing on our troops. "UNlawful, UNethical, UNstoppable" is the Mirror's conclusion: "We blame Blair but back our troops".

The typical postwar response from the Sun will be to attack the premier on his domestic record. With funding levels in health and education now at the promised European levels, but little improvement, and with most people against the impending National Insurance contributions tax, Blair may yet follow Churchill into the history books and win the war but lose the peace.

It should have been a case of lock up your sons at the weekend for Clare Short. A self-satisfied-looking Toby Graham, Short's son, wrote a junior school essay in the Mail on Sunday on why he loved his mum and hated the war. "I know Clare will not change her stance," he said of his "unwavering" mum. When she told Toby that her attack on Blair would probably be the end of her, she was right. It was not the attack but the lack of moral courage to see her principles through that finished her off. …