Rupert Murdoch’s long history of calculated meddling in British politics has taken a new turn with the media baron calling a snap meeting with Nigel Farage in Manhattan.
In a gesture that will give David Cameron something extra to think about as he attended the NATO summit in Wales, the News Corp boss summoned the Ukip leader to his office for a private discussion.
The talks, which have been confirmed by Ukip, took place after Mr Farage had finished recording interviews at Mr Murdoch’s Fox News television network.
According to website Breitbart London, the Ukip leader’s invitation to meet Mr Murdoch was passed on during an advertisement break by presenter Neil Cavuto with the words: “Sir, the boss wants to see you. The big boss.”
Only a month ago, Mr Murdoch took to Twitter to express disapproval of his daughter Elisabeth’s friendship with the Prime Minister. “Asked is my daughter friend of David Cameron? Don’t know, but hope not.”
The publicity value of the meeting for Mr Farage, will not be lost on either the Ukip leader or the News Corp boss. Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, acknowledged the continued importance of the media baron’s support in an interview with GQ magazine in April in which he described Mr Murdoch as “a remarkable man”. On Twitter, Rupert has cheered Mr Salmond on in his political jousting with the Prime Minister, describing the SNP leader as “clearly most brilliant politician in UK” and “Loved by Scots”.
Mr Farage is said to have held “lengthy talks” with Mr Murdoch in after going to the Fox studios in the middle of the day to prerecord interviews with both Mr Cavuto, who is a well known business news presenter, and Sean Hannity, one of America’s best-known right-wing talk show hosts.
Ukip sources confirmed Mr Farage had met the News Corp boss but said it was “a purely private conversation between the two”. Interest in Ukip has grown in the US following the defection to the party of Tory MP Douglas Carswell. Mr Farage is in America to learn more about the latest electioneering issues, including canvassing techniques. He has also built some media opportunities into his itinerary. Mr Hannity has been a supporter of the Tea Party, the conservative political movement with which Ukip shares a sense of being “overtaxed, overgoverned, not being listened to”, according to Mr Farage.
Mr Murdoch’s latest intervention in Westminster affairs, just ahead of the Scottish referendum vote and not long before a General Election, follows a tradition of his sounding out the merits of British politicians. Tony Blair, once greatly admired by Mr Murdoch, took up an invitation to address News Corp executives at a conference in Pebble Beach, California, in 2006 while still serving as Prime Minister. The pair later fell out after Mr Blair enjoyed secret weekends with the tycoon’s wife Wendi Deng at the Murdoch ranch.
The Murdoch press likes to think it has played a king-making role in previous UK elections, helping to propel Mr Blair to power in 1997 while thwarting the ambitions of Neil Kinnock in 1992 and Gordon Brown in 2010.