Magazine article The Spectator

I Stand by My Story

Magazine article The Spectator

I Stand by My Story

Article excerpt

THE REFERENDUM on the single currency is 1,000 editions of the Sun away, and 175 weeks is a long time in politics. That same amount of time ago Murdoch's flagship was a Tory-supporting circulation success edited with panache and humour. How times change. That is what makes last week's tantrum so intriguing.

Why now? It was, of course, partly down to a new editor keen to make a splash (and a double-page spread) to impress his new boss, but it was no maverick operation. The general thrust of the attack was authorised by Murdoch, though he was slightly taken aback by its juvenile tone. His representative on earth, Irwin Stelzer, had paved the way earlier in the week with a Sun op-ed and provided the intellectual rationale in last week's Spectator, blaming Gordon Brown for leading poor Tony astray. Stelzer's article was no less fascinating for its opening (and uncharacteristic) faux pas in which he described the Cardiff summit as a 'G7 meeting'; it was, of course, a meeting of the European Council, hence Blair's warm words on Europe, which, it has to be said, despite Alastair Campbell's massaging of the message, were noted by the whole lobby.

One of the most amusing sights one sees when News Corp watching is Murdoch's minions contorting themselves into finding reasons for Blair's behaviour. They seek to blame anyone but the PM himself because they know that RM still dotes on him. A senior Wapping executive who spent time with Murdoch recently says his admiration for Blair is undimmed - he is affectionate, even fatherly when talking about him. Murdoch himself believes that Blair has been seduced by siren voices on the Continent, who tempt him with the idea that he could take over the leadership of the Union - but only if he gets Britain to sign up to EMU. So, as well as Brown, we should blame Kohl. `If only these sodding chancellors would leave my boy alone!' one can imagine him snarling.

Poor Rupert. He just cannot bring himself to believe the truth - Blair actually believes in the single currency. That the Prime Minister, God forbid, supports the stated position of the government. `We are', his Chancellor told the Commons last autumn, `the first British government to declare for the principle of monetary union.' Brown and Blair wrote that passage together. Isn't it clear enough?

The Chancellor will be equally clear in Idaho next month at News Corp's summer beanfeast. Blair hopes the event will thaw the frosty relations between Brown and Murdoch but that is unlikely, whatever the surface bonhomie. Murdoch sees more of the Labour party he loathes in Brown than he does in Blair, hence Stelzer's intemperate attack. One difference between Brown and Blair is that Blair talks politics, while Brown talks economics and his views are far removed from Murdoch's free marketry. The Sun's smooth political editor, Trevor Kavanagh, will travel to Idaho with Brown to act as cupid but it will be a difficult wooing.

Last week's turbulence should not distract us from the underlying dynamics of the euro debate. The government is playing a long game, as John Smith would say. New Labour's strategy is to let the euro be its own best advocate. When it begins in January 1999, it will sweep first the Continent and then our consciousness. Ordinary voters (and Sun readers) will soon deal with it on holiday and read and hear about it in the media. The convenience and price transparency it will bring will shift public opinion. Blair knows that one last push from him will be necessary to secure support in the eventual referendum, but until about mid-1999 (probably at the time of the June Euro-elections) the emphasis will be on the first part of the government's `prepare and decide' formula. …

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