Magazine article The Spectator

The Fascinating Affinities between William Hague and the Editor of the Sun

Magazine article The Spectator

The Fascinating Affinities between William Hague and the Editor of the Sun

Article excerpt

Last week something happened which has caused Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's press secretary, to pull out his hair. The Sun, which from before the last election has broadly supported New Labour, started rooting for William Hague, a man whom a year ago it depicted as a dead parrot.

During the European elections in June the paper stayed surprisingly on the sidelines. Now it has suddenly become a fervent supporter of Mr Hague's harder line on the euro. And this appears to be no momentary aberration. Last Friday afternoon Rupert Murdoch, proprietor of the Sun, had a private meeting with the Tory leader which was later described by one of his confidants as `very friendly'. This person was quoted in the Financial Times as saying that the relationship between the two men had `become more positive . . . The tide has turned for the Tory party'.

It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this development and the panic it has occasioned in Downing Street. The government has long nurtured the hope that Mr Murdoch could be 'turned' on the euro. It wasn't such a barmy idea. After all, a man whose business interests have led him to express his `admiration for China's tremendous achievements in every respect over the past two decades' could plausibly be expected to learn to love the euro. Only last week Mr Murdoch stressed his determination to play a larger role in European television. Might not such expansion carry with it a more pragmatic line on the euro? When, a few weeks ago, Mr Murdoch had lunch with Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, some people thought that this was a prelude to a Damascene conversion. Well, I suppose it still might be. You never can be sure with Mr Murdoch, and the Sun is famously fickle. But it would entail an enormous amount of rowing back from its new pro-Hague and extreme anti-euro position.

Mr Murdoch evidently calculates that it is possible to advance his interests in Europe while remaining anti-euro. But, in fact, the Sun's love affair with Mr Hague-- did not start with him. Amanda Platell, the Tory leader's quite recently installed spin doctor, realised that the Sun, which is read by ten million people, was a prize worth battling for. So Mr Hague was put together with David Yelland, the paper's editor, who had likened him to a dead parrot. Somehow they hit it off. Maybe they were drawn to each other because they are both exceptionally bald. It is also pointed out that both men hail from Yorkshire and are about the same age. No doubt there was a genuine meeting of minds. At all events, the relationship has blossomed and, at the Tory party conference in Blackpool earlier this month, William and Ffion lunched with Mr Yelland and his wife. The paper was slightly appalled by the ferocity of Mr Hague's attack on Mr Blair during that conference (`Whatever else you say about Tony Blair, he is essentially a good man') but judged that `Hague is getting better there's no denying that'. Last week it turned its guns on Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clarke (`Tony's Toadies') and berated them, and John Major, for attacking its new hero, William Hague.

We can be certain that Mr Yelland did not swing his paper behind the Tory leader without the support of his proprietor. Mr Murdoch always takes an interest in the Sun, and in some sense acts as a kind of editor-in-chief. He runs the Times on a much looser rein. It is a nice irony that, just as Mr Murdoch is beginning to see the point of Mr Hague, the Times's dislike of the man should deepen. …

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