Media moguls with power to play politics: The Italian elections could contain a lesson for Britain. David Lister reports

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The Independent Online
A MEDIA mogul sets up his own political party, promotes it and himself endlessly on television and shocks the world by becoming prime minister. It could only happen in fiction or in something stranger than fiction, such as Italy.

But could it happen here, where media concentration is much commented upon but has not, as yet, been used to such devastating effect as in Italy this week?

With much of our press controlled from abroad and most of our airwaves state- regulated, the possibilities are not as great as on the Continent, but they do exist. A future election could, for example, see:

The Virgin Alliance: Aiming to be Britain's first male prime minister not to wear a tie, Richard Branson would have strong appeal among the demographically large electorate of ageing ex-hippies turned prosperous executives, as well as with lovers of early Seventies soft rock.

He could offer fiscal incentives of discounted air travel, but would lose votes in constituencies where his radio station has a rotten reception.

The SST (Sky Sun Times): Increasingly claiming affinity with the born-again Christian democrats its leader, Rupert Murdoch, would have use of four national papers and satellite television to put across his message.

Mr Murdoch would have to overcome the constitutionally hazy question of a foreign citizen becoming prime minister, but there is likely to be a limited media campaign to clarify that issue.

The Commonwealth Hemline Party: The foreign premiership issue may arise too in the case of Conrad Black, Canadian owner of the Daily Telegraph. Campaigning for a return to traditional values and shorter skirts, he is likely to win votes in home counties areas that Mr Branson's radio cannot reach.

The Association: Lord Rothermere would have to renounce his title to become prime minister as Lord Home had to back in 1963.

Sources say he would be loath to do this, reckoning with some justification to influence government policy as owner of the Daily Mail far more effectively than he could as prime minister.

Chris Evans: An outsider to watch. Does not actually own a TV station but is rarely off them, gaining visibility and familiarity with the electorate through what pollsters refer to as the Slattery factor. Most of his audience is below voting age but could prove influential in urging their parents how to vote.

Leading article, page 17

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