Which national newspapers will be backing Tony Blair in the run- up to the general election?; OUR SERIES ON THE PEOPLE JOCKEYING FOR INFLUENCE IN THE LATE NINETIES
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The Independent Online
Tony Blair flew halfway around the world last year to shake hands and "share a joke", as caption writers say, with Rupert Murdoch, the media tycoon with the Times, Sunday Times and the Sun in his pocket. The "honeymoon", as the press described it, between Murdoch and Blair has been an ultimately inscrutable episode. Whether or not Murdoch will tell his editors to back Labour at the next general election remains anyone's guess, and there are many guessing.

What we know for sure is that Blair needs Murdoch more than Murdoch needs Blair, and that the Sun, Times and Sunday Times were slavish supporters of Margaret Thatcher and her vision of privatised and society-less Britain. Why change now?

There are perfectly good reasons to do so: not least because the rise of professional women in Britain has seen a decline in the traditional female Tory vote. Papers must increasingly woo women readers. While it is true that the Daily Mail, that most blimpish of all newspapers, is aimed principally at women and is as likely to back Blair as the Pope is to get married, the Mail on Sunday, a gentler read than its John Bullish sibling, is surprisingly sweet on Tony'n'Cherie.

One right-wing daily flirting with Blair is the Daily Express. Lord Hollick, its new managing director, is a Labour peer and was formerly on the board of Mirror Group newspapers; the Daily Mirror and Mirror on Sunday have always supported Labour. The Express's editor, Richard Addis, a former monk, is a zealous Tory, but already in the seven months of Hollick's involvement he has displayed clear signs of wanting to curry favour with the new boss by splattering his pages with flattering pictures of new Labour personalities.

Another initially surprising realignment is the London Evening Standard's steady swing from right-wing Tory to new Labour editorial. The paper has backed calls by Blair for a new elected authority, and possibly a mayor for London, as well as Lord Rogers's campaign for a radically improved urban infrastructure.

At a recent meeting between Max Hastings, the Standard's old-school Tory editor and senior journalists, only one hand was raised in favour of supporting the Conservatives at the next election. It would be very out of character for Hastings to smarm up to the new Labour mandarins, but it would make perfect sense for him to ease the paper back to the days when it represented the liberal and vaguely leftish stance characteristic of cosmopolitan London. The paper devotes much space to the lives and lifestyles of the young and incurably fashionable; as these are far more likely to vote Labour than Conservative at the next election, the Standard could only gain by chumming up to them through its columns.

Some of this thinking can be felt at the Independent, a paper that has steered very much its own line through the currents of national politics, but is likely to prefer a government run by Blair than by the Tories. David Montgomery, chief executive of the Mirror Group, which now owns the Independent and Independent on Sunday, is both very much a part of the new establishment and, although not close to him, a Blair supporter.

The Independent's editor before last, Ian Hargreaves (left), was decidedly pro-Labour and is currently editing the New Statesman, the left-wing weekly now owned by Geoffrey Robinson, Labour MP, one-time managing director of Jaguar Cars and millionaire businessman. If Robinson has fresh ambitions to further his position in the new Labour hierarchy, then the New Statesman is a useful vehicle for him. However, Hargreaves is no lackey and a strict division between ownership and control exists at the "Staggers", allowing the editor free rein. Hargreaves brought several reformed Communist writers and editors into the Independent, including Martin Jacques, former editor of Marxism Today. They are now writing for the New Statesman and, if sympathetic to Blair, are very much their own creatures.

True to form, the Guardian will support Labour, as will the Observer with Will "The State We're In" Hutton at the helm. The Daily Telegraph will back the Tories, middle England and Elizabeth Hurley.

Ultimately, there are few newspaper proprietors or magazine publishers toadying up to Blair, although there are many of them who think they can see the writing on the wall and either believe, or are beginning to believe, that the politics of Blair will promote sales of their publications more than those of John Major. Expect, then, a phenomenon in British publishing in the weeks leading up to the general election; for once, and very much unlike 1992, the Daily Mirror will not be alone in encouraging you to vote Labour.