The Tories won't like what they read in the Murdoch papers, says Rhys Williams
Britain yesterday woke up to a verdict that stunned the world. Despite a long history of animosity and conflict, overwhelming circumstantial evidence that Labour's policies have not yet changed substantially, and an incriminating memo suggesting the party was not fit to govern, a previously staunchly Tory press greeted Tony Blair with almost unanimous warmth.

So any relief that Conservative spin doctors might have felt at the OJ Simpson verdict banishing Mr Blair's speech from the covers of most tabloids and relegating it down-page on broadsheet front pages must have been shortlived when they read the editorial and comment pages inside.

Even the Daily Mail, at the forefront in articulating and occasionally stoking Middle England's suspicion of new Labour, found space in its leading article to praise a "tour de force, brilliantly pitched to heal the divisions within his own party while speaking to the heart of the nation as a whole".

Although the Mail's softening is significant, what is likely to have Smith Square staff reaching for the Nurofen is the praise heaped on Mr Blair in the Murdoch press. The fear for Conservatives now is that the long courtship between Rupert Murdoch and Mr Blair - first over a candelit dinner in London and then on the Pacific island of Hayman - is about to be consummated.

A Labour source once indicated that the flirtation with Mr Murdoch would pay off if the Sun were to back the party at the next general election. It was the Sun's outright hostility "what won it" for the Tories last time. The Labour leadership will settle for neutrality from Britain's top-selling daily, if not support.

The Sun's praise was upfront. "This was surely the most remarkable speech ever made to a Labour conference," its leader trilled, in italics for added stress. "It could have easily been made to a Tory gathering. The tragedy is, you know it won't be."

It continued: "The Labour leader has now told us what he stands for. Decent family values and Christian standards that should touch a nerve in every home in the land."

Today, operating as something of an old-style Daily Mirror in exile under the editorship of Richard Stott, has moved crab-like to the left of centre. Alistair Campbell was its political columnist before becoming Mr Blair's press secretary, so it was no surprise that it played with Labour's spin. "Most important of all," the leading article explained, "he [Blair] offered an escape from the sterile and barren wasteland that politics has become under this Government."

To complete the trio, the Times was also impressed. The paper's leading article focused less on policy specifics in favour of a broader analysis of the issue of morality raised by Mr Blair. Accusing him of being the "magpie of British politics", it said that his moral crusade would be "as difficult (for the Conservatives) to ape as it will be to criticise".

If Labour had run out of steam this week, if Mr Blair had made a big slip-up, then John Major could have looked forward to a brighter week next week. As it is, it looks pretty gloomy. Even the London Evening Standard, one of his few supporters, has started to become more critical of late. As for leader writers from Wapping, the knives they used to plunge into Labour leaders will now be sharpened for the Prime Minister.

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