Andrew Grice: Blair says he wasn't too close to Murdoch. I disagree


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The Independent Online

Tony Blair has defended his close links with Rupert Murdoch's media empire while he was Labour leader and insisted that his contacts were not limited to one newspaper group.

The former prime minister told Sky News Australia: "For any political leader who's been operating in Britain in the last 30 or 40 years, the power of the media is such that you can't but have a relationship with people who are powerful media people. By the way, that's not limited to News International."

I have a rather different recollection. Blair aides regarded The Sunday Times (proprietor: R Murdoch), where I worked when he became Labour leader in 1994, as the country's most important paper. They were desperate to woo The Sun to avoid the brutal treatment it had meted out to Neil Kinnock. As Mr Blair put it: "It is better to ride the tiger's back than let it rip your throat out."

Although Mr Blair also wooed the Daily Mail, against the advice of Alastair Campbell, he eventually came to agree with his communications director that it was a waste of time. Most of Mr Blair's media schmoozing was directed at the Murdoch papers. The unwritten deal was that they would end their recent hostility to Labour if the party dropped its support for curbs on cross-media ownership.

After Labour won power in 1997, with the backing of The Sun and the News of the World, the Murdoch camp influenced policies such as Europe, tax and business. Lance Price, who was Mr Campbell's deputy, described Mr Murdoch as the "24th member" of the Blair cabinet. He added: "No big decision could ever be made inside No 10 without taking account of the likely reaction of three men: Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Rupert Murdoch."