`Pure chance' that Rupert was in town

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The Independent Online
IF YOU believe the Sun's new editor, it was pure coincidence that Rupert Murdoch happened to be in London this week for Sir David English's funeral when he chose to run the paper's biggest attack yet on Tony Blair's pro-Euro policies.

Instead, David Yelland maintains that the timing of his attack was dictated by England's World Cup efforts and his own arrival at the tabloid.

"I just arrived 10 days ago. I couldn't have done it much earlier," he said yesterday. The front-page headline: "Is this the most dangerous man in Britain?" is a flagship statement of the new editor's opposition to Britain's entry into the Euro.

Mr Yelland maintains that it is no coincidence that his views reflect those of Mr Murdoch - after all, that's who appointed him - but that the media mogul was in America when the decision to run the attack on Blair was taken and did not see it until yesterday morning.

"I decided that we were in danger of going into the single currency without there being any serious debate on the issue and that Tony Blair's popularity and talents could mean a lot of people doing what he says."

Senior News International sources maintain that nothing this high-profile would ever run in a Murdoch newspaper without his approval.

However, experts on Mr Murdoch believe that the Sun might have a slightly different agenda from its owner.

"Murdoch at some point will wish to start earning Euros. He is desperate to get into TV in Germany and Italy so he could yet drop his opposition to the single currency," says one observer of Mr Murdoch's empire.

"For the Sun, the important thing is that its readers oppose it on nationalistic grounds and it makes good marketing sense to be oppositional."

Yesterday, the newspaper reported that its telephone poll on the Euro had received 28,000 calls in opposition to it and just 1,370 in favour.

Mr Yelland confirmed that sales of the Sun yesterday held their own despite the lack of a celebrity front page, but denied playing a nationalistic card in order to boost circulation: "We were not being overly-sentimental. The easy way to get sales is to put 15 paparazzi around Prince William at Eton."

Nevertheless, in its list of 20 reasons for opposing the single currency the Sun claimed that losing the pound would weaken Britain's national heritage. Another reason given was the dubious assertion that Britain's gold reserves would have to be moved to Frankfurt.

The more sophisticated analysis might be that at some point Mr Murdoch, who faces opposition to his expansion plans in Europe, will want help from the British Government. Tony Blair has already intervened on his behalf with the Italian Prime Minister, it could well be that yesterday's Sun was a message that if the media mogul doesn't get the help he needs, the Government can expect to pay a very heavy price.

The problem for editors of Mr Murdoch's newspapers is that if the master changes his opinions they may find themselves caught on the wrong side of the debate.

Last night, Mr Yelland was already describing his front page headline as "slightly tongue in cheek" and claiming that the story accompanying it was so generous to Mr Blair that it did not get around to attacking him until it had listed his talents.

Tony Blair's wooing of Mr Murdoch goes back to a meeting between the two at a News Corp conference on Hayman Island off Australia two years before the general election. In the run up to that election the Sun famously dropped 20 years of support for the Tories to back Mr Blair.

Despite suspicions that the Sun was simply changing to back a winning horse, the Labour government has continued to seek to please Mr Murdoch and his newspapers.