Chosen few given taste of success at Aspen eyrie

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The Independent Online
"Take your ties off," a beaming Rupert Murdoch told his assembled News Corporation executives and VIP guests who had been flown to his eyrie in Aspen, Colorado, from every corner of the world.

Almost avuncular in a Val Doonican pullover, he assured everyone from Dick Cheney, the American Defense Secretary, to gritty editors from small- town Australia that for the duration of his 1992 conference, all were equal in the eyes of the master. Even Lord Rees-Mogg and the mandarin, Sir Charles Powell, felt obliged to disrobe.

Mr Blair may be charmed by such democracy when he arrives in Australia after his first-class flight to Hayman Island. But he could be dismayed by other sartorial niceties. In the spirit of the consummate corporate occasion, he will find in his hotel room a complete set of NewsCorp clothing - t-shirt, coat, sun hat and umbrella - and a NewsCorp holdall in which to transport his conference agenda from session to session.

If he is as lucky as the guests at Aspen, he will also find tucked under the counterpane a set of the latest videos from the house movie studio, Fox, a book on how to improve his decision making (from the house publisher Harper-Collins), and an exquisite crystal ball etched with all the countries of the globe to remind him why he is there.

World influence is a favourite theme of Murdoch get-togethers. Had Mr Blair been delivering his speech on "Britain in the World" at Aspen, he would have found himself alongside a board member of Philip Morris explaining how the multinational cigarette and food company continued to expand its global business in "difficult markets". In this context, Mr Blair will find "synergy" a useful word to be uttered loudly and often.

But there will be compensation for the rigours of the podium and the long hours (first sessions start at 7.30am). Like royalty, the Labour leader will not have to carry cash. If the Aspen experience is repeated, NewsCorp taxis will bear him (like all the other guests) wherever he wishes, and the meals will be regal. (A multi-coloured display of caviare was a highlight of the buffet on the lawn of Mr Murdoch's house).

At Hayman Island there will be the equivalent of the hot air ballooning and white water rafting that so thrilled his guests in the Rockies, along with the mandatory premiere of the latest Fox movie.

Blair would be wise, though, not to let his hair down too much. There was a celebrated sacking at Aspen when the new young head of Fox thought it would be a joke to wheel on a nude model to prove a point about censorship. And none of the high-profile British editors at the centre of the show three years ago remain in their jobs.

Like Andrew Neil of the Sunday Times, Kelvin MacKenzie of the Sun, Simon Jenkins of the Times and Patsy Chapman of the News of the World, the Labour leader might find Murdoch's favours all too transitory. He would be wise to hang on to that crystal ball.