The media column - Peter Wilby on Blair's day in the Sun

The <em>Sun</em> initially demanded that MPs get back to work "right now". It later decided they cou

It was Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher's press secretary, who first developed the symbiotic relationship between the Sun and the ruling party of the day. Thatcher would tell him she was minded to propose new legislation, usually in defiance of her ministers - but this was not on any account to be leaked to the press. Ingham would alert the Sun as to what was in the wind, while emphasising that nothing about Thatcher's intentions should yet be published. The Sun would launch a campaign for laws that bore a close resemblance to what lurked in the Thatcher mind. The prime minister would duly announce her proposals, disarming her opposing ministers by saying she was responding to the people's will as expressed in the Sun. The paper would acclaim the "victory" of its campaign.

This may not be an exact model of what happened this month over Tony Blair's proposed anti-terror laws, but all the signs were there. On 3 August, the Sun emblazoned "Lawless Britain" on its front page. While MPs went on an 80-day holiday, "extremist clerics" were preaching jihad; our borders were out of control; the UK had become a "breeding ground" for terrorists; there were racist murders on our doorsteps; "kids" were scared to go out; paedophiles were moving in next door. MPs should return to legislate on these and other pressing matters, and the Sun had a coupon readers could fill in to demand just that.

The paper's shopping list may have been longer than Blair had in mind, but if you wanted to know what was really going on, you had only to turn to Trevor Kavanagh, the Sun's political editor. He concentrated solely on the terror threat and demanded more deportations and more police powers. Though the Sun initially demanded that MPs get back to work "RIGHT NOW", it later decided they could have six weeks' holiday and come back in September. "Everyone needs a break," wrote Kavanagh magnanimously.

On 5 August, Blair announced his plans to deport extremist clerics, close down mosques, increase the use of control orders and so on. And when would legislation be introduced? Why, said Blair, he might recall parliament in September. All this startled the Home Office, which had not even been informed that Blair would hold a press conference and whose secretary of state, Charles Clarke, is reported to disagree sharply with the PM over the severity of the measures needed.

The Sun was predictably delighted. The Daily Mail was less impressed.

A two-page feature explained it was all too late anyway: hundreds of mujahedin are already here and are on course to turn us into an Islamic state by 2050. Perhaps the Mail fears it will be the first target of Blair's tough new approach. On 6 August, a three-page feature raised "bizarre yet deeply unsettling questions" about 9/11 and suggested that the planes which hit the World Trade Center were actually US missiles, and that the US secret services had planted explosives inside the twin towers. Anyone believing this theory would certainly be incited to terrorism.

I suspect most commentators have missed the main point about the departure of Lachlan Murdoch from his father's News Corporation. Speculation has swirled through newspaper columns about family rows and about Lachlan disliking his father's interference at work.

Yet almost nobody lasts for ever in the Murdoch empire. Andrew Neil, Kelvin MacKenzie, Andrew Knight, Richard Searby, Bruce Matthews: these are just some of the names that once held seemingly impregnable positions under Murdoch. The boss didn't exactly fire them but, in each case, it became clear they had fallen out of favour and had no future in the company. "Don't fall in love with Rupert," Matthews told Neil in 1987. "He turns on lovers and chops them off." It now looks as if Murdoch treats family in the same way. Elisabeth and Lachlan, the two older children from his second marriage, have come and gone from News Corp. Only James is left and, with the children from his father's third marriage still in infancy, his innings may be a long one. But don't count on it.

Outsiders often fail to grasp that News Corp is run entirely on Murdoch's whims. It has been variously described as the court of a sun king and as a corporate corner shop. There is no management or career structure in the conventional sense. In Full Disclosure, his memoir of his Sunday Times editorship, Neil wrote: "Nobody in the company other than Rupert knows the whole picture." Besides, Murdoch had "a general disdain for individuals" and repeatedly said that anybody could be replaced.

I doubt Murdoch would have difficulty applying this rule to his family. The Murdoch dynasty that has been widely forecast may never happen. Which is perhaps as well, when you think what happened to the Express newspapers after control passed from Lord Beaverbrook to the next generation and how Times Newspapers nearly went down the pan when Roy Thomson's son succeeded him.

Next Article