The Blair Murdoch sees is not the Blair he will get


ONE of the more interesting aspects of the general election campaign across the water is the way many British people continue to believe that they live in a democracy.

This touching syndrome was to be observed in full blown form in the response to the Sun's decision to support Labour. For the past week, the significance of this has been debated with great gusto but without much evidence that there is any genuine understanding of its true meaning.

The response was divided between the familiar apocalyptics who perceived imminent dangers to democracy and the even more familiar complacents who poured scorn on such notions.

The apocalyptics warned darkly of the menacing implications of a mere newspaper being perceived as having the power to elect governments.

The complacents responded with an analysis purporting to show that the Sun was behind, rather than ahead of its readers.

Since 60 per cent of the newspaper's readership had already indicated an intention to vote Labour, Mr Murdoch's instruction to his journalists to switch support from John Major to Tony Blair was a transparent effort to board the bandwagon.

There is a third analysis which is probably more disturbing than either of the others. It would indeed be worrying to imagine that a newspaper had the power to affect the outcome of an election in the crude manner suggested by the apocalyptic prognosis.

There were those who believed that the intervention of the Sun in the 19 92 general election, in particular with its last minute, highly personal attacks on Neil Kinnock, was a critical factor in the defeat of Labour then. Certainly, it didn't help. But equally the suggestion smacked of a post rationalisation of something that was otherwise far more ominous.

IT WAS easier to explain away the Labour defeat as the result of the mendacity of the tabloid press than face the possibility that Labour was unelectable. In truth, Labour was unelectable, and it was Rupert Murdoch's newspapers that did most to make it so. The Sun does not influence the outcome of an election with headlines or editorials.

The influence of monolithic newspaper groups like that owned by Rupert Murdoch goes much deeper than this, to the creation of the very culture in which politics occurs.

The knowledge of this has, in my opinion, been the main distinguishing impulse behind the rise of Tony Blair. Blair came to understand that "Old" Labour was unelectable, not necessarily because of any definitive inherent shortcomings but because powerful people like Murdoch had decided that it should not be elected. Blair decided that Murdoch could not be bucked - he had to be courted.

All of the changes which Blair undertook to make within his party were motivated by the desire to appease Rupert Murdoch and appeal to the mindset that Murdoch, in tandem with Margaret Thatcher, had created in Britain.

This sounds like a highly dishonourable motive for changing a political party, and indeed earned Tony Blair no end of stick from people who should have been his allies. But it was probably the only course open to him. For such is Rupert Murdoch's power.

We are talking about the power to create reality. Rupert Murdoch has created a reality in modern Britain that is brutal and brutalising, in which only those who are prepared to profess and practise brutality can truly feel that the nation rightly belongs to them. By dropping daily into the public arena tabloid sized bites of poison and prejudice, Mr Murdoch supplied the drip that changed Britain without anyone seeming to notice.

And the beauty of it was that, once he had achieved his aim, everyone thought it was a good idea, because by then they were at one with Mr. Murdoch on virtually everything other than financial circumstances.

Yes, the electorate was intelligent - about as, intelligent as Mr Murdoch wished it to be. And yes, people were able to make up their own minds, employing the faculties carefully honed for many years by the Sun and the Sunday Times - using ally the information which Mr Murdoch felt should be made available to them.

Mr Murdoch created a Britain in which it was unfashionable to care, in which the idea of society was a nonsense, in which sincerity and idealism: were synonymous with boredom and stupidity.

He created a Britain in which it was impossible for any politician to appeal successfully to the electorate on the basis of wanting to make the society better for people in general rather than in the interests of the individual. He created a Britain in which cynicism and indifference were the safest means of communication.

THIS is the reality which confronted Tony Blair. The Tory Party, to which cynicism and indifference are as breathing and eating, provided the perfect ruling caste for such a Britain. There was no reason why the Conservatives could not rule until well into the next century.

In some contexts pragmatism is a dirty word, but this is one exception. Blair realised that, unless it could find a way of harmonising with the new culture, the Labour Party was destined for the political wilderness, and Britain for doom. So beautifully had Murdoch constructed the culture in which Margaret Thatcher had in turn enabled him to prosper anew that no amount of Tory incompetence, sleaze or inhumanity seemed capable of denting the Conservative Party's hegemony.

Five years ago, if you looked across the British political landscape, it was clear that neither the Tories for the electorate was capable of changing - other than for the worse. And although the Labour Party was perhaps the institution least in need of reform, it was equally clear that only by itself changing to blend into the new culture could it ensure its own participation in the future of Britain.

Last week's Sun headline, "The Sun Backs Blair", was simply the certificate bearing witness to how well Tony Blair has done his job. He has made the Labour Party electable by making it appear sympathetic to the culture of cynicism and indifference which Rupert Murdoch created to make Britain safe for Margaret Thatcher to make it safe for him.

But I have always felt that Tony Blair was on the side of the angels, and I do not believe that what we are seeing is what we are going to get. In fighting the Devil and his works it is necessary sometimes to don the appearance of the enemy, to appear to harmonise with his intentions.

But only a culture stupefied by nonsense could believe the taunt in the slogan "Tory Blair". Behind the sheeplike demeanour of New Labour lurks a far nobler animal lying in wait to bite the hand that feeds it. By deviousness and cunning, Mr Blair stands in a place his predecessors, for all their obvious decency and good intentions, could never have glimpsed.