Heseltine rallies Tories with attack on Blair's 'sell-out' to Murdoch

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The Independent Online
Michael Heseltine yesterday accused Tony Blair of a "sell-out" to the Murdoch press when he launched a summer offensive on the Labour leadership in a bid to reunite the Tory party.

It may strike a chord with traditional Labour trade unionists, but the strength of the deputy Prime Minister's attack on Mr Blair's meeting with Mr Murdoch in Australia will raise suspicions that the Tory leadership is worried it will lose the support of the Murdoch press at the next election.

Mr Heseltine told Tories in Nottingham: "Tony Blair's sellout to the Murdoch press empire has sent a chill of despair into the hearts of Labour's most committed supporters. Here was a Labour leader travelling halfway across the world to sup with the man who had broken the back of some of Labour's most entrenched trade union barons. It wasn't just a passing meeting or a casual chat.

"This was the Labour leader chucking in the towel. Everything they had worked for - all their deepest prejudices, their vision of a new socialism on earth, the international brotherhood of man, down the pan of an ultra-smart hidey-hole for the rich off Australia's eastern coast."

The Deputy Prime Minister is planning a series of meetings with key right- wing Tories who supported John Redwood in the leadership election, in an attempt to reunite the Tory party.

Mr Heseltine has already put out feelers to Mr Redwood's supporters in Parliament, and will be seeing them in the autumn. He is keen to overcome their hostility to his role after the reshuffle at the heart of the Government.

Mr Heseltine yesterday said "old friendships" in the Tory party were being renewed. He was planning to meet Mr Redwood as part of the series of contacts with the Tory right before Mr Major's private talks with his Tory leadership challenger.

He said that by the autumn there could be a "new consensus" in the Tory party behind John Major's leadership. "The Conservative Party has, at most, some 22 months to win the next election. There must be no doubt, no hesitation, no failure in our resolve to do so," he said. Conservatives had a vital role to play in exposing the weakness of local Labour councillors, Mr Heseltine added.