Sting said sex, for him, was a religious experience. For Trudie's sake, I hope it happens only at Christmas

Seventeen words uttered by Rupert Murdoch the other day sent a chill through Downing Street. "If our newspapers were anti-Labour, perhaps Blair wouldn't worry so much about looking after his friends," he said menacingly at BSkyB's annual general meeting in London.

As he awaits the outcome of the Office of Fair Trading's investigation into his television interests, Murdoch raised the possibility that the political line of his newspapers was damaging his commercial success.

It was easy to miss the warning shot, as most newspapers buried the story in their business pages. But it will not have been lost on Tony Blair. He understands better than most that, to increase your support, you have to hold on to existing voters while attracting new ones, which is exactly what he did in the mid-1990s. He kept the left-wing newspapers such as the Mirror, Guardian and Independent relatively happy (where else did they have to go anyway?) and set out to woo the Sun and Times - successfully - and the Telegraph and Mail - not so successfully.

The Prime Minister must worry whether he could win an election with the Sun against him. As Neil Kinnock found out, the Mirror's support is not enough. There are simply more voters, and especially more swing voters, reading the Sun. If Murdoch were to act on his warning, it is likely that the Sun would revert to a strategy it has used well in the past: praise the man and damn the party. Blair could be supported in his war efforts while his government is mercilessly attacked over the domestic agenda. This is precisely what the paper did with William Hague, and we all know how that turned out.

But there is another wild card in the Sun's pack - its huge number of Asian readers. The editor, David Yelland, was the first to carry in a truly impactful way the message that this was not a war against Muslims. He has hammered that message home: another recent Sun leader called for tolerance and a reaching out to the Muslim community. Blair is very aware of the role Yelland is playing in keeping the British Muslim community on board.


Last Monday, it was announced that breast cancer had outstripped lung cancer to become the most common form of the disease in Britain. There is a survival rate of 70 per cent among the 39,500 new cases diagnosed each year. The Daily Mail was the only newspaper to put this story on the front page, albeit in typically anti-feminist terms: "Breast cancer risk to career women". In the Express, the story merited only page 12; the Times gave it one paragraph, also on page 12; the Independent page 13; the Guardian page 11 (even though it had a quarter-page piece in the comment section on the rotten deal women are getting in the boardrooms); the Sun page 21; and the Mirror page 25.

By my calculation, this means that roughly 12,000 women (yes, they are almost all women, which perhaps explains the lack of interest in the figures) die from breast cancer each year, many more people than were killed in the twin towers on 11 September. Britain has one of the worst breast cancer survival rates in the developed world. A friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year. She arrived at an NHS hospital for her first chemotherapy session last month, only to be told that the machine was broken and they would notify her when she could return. Yet our newspaper generals are happy to fill their front pages with stories about guns and radios that don't work. Have they become so obsessed with bombing the hell out of the third world that the deaths of women in Britain at the hands of a third-world health service somehow count for less?


Michael Parkinson gave over his entire show to the interminably dull, navel-gazing Sting the other week. Big mistake. The show dropped 2.6 million viewers from the previous week quicker than you could say "tantric sex". I have not yet found anyone who managed to stay awake during the show, especially when Sting started banging on about how sex, for him, was a "religious experience".

For Trudie's sake, I hope that means it happens only at Christmas, weddings and funerals.


The most hilarious misfire of the war so far was from ITN's Julian (half man, half hairdo) Manyon. He accused his GMTV rival, Lara Logan, of using her considerable feminine charms to get an easy ride covering the war. Lara is the only western female broadcaster on the front line. Anyone who has spent six weeks washing in a bucket that is shared with three men, cleaning herself with wet wipes and reporting from a world that is, to put it politely, unfriendly to women, deserves all the credit she gets.


BBC executives all the way up to Greg Dyke are furious with what has been dubbed the Nicky Campbell suicide interview, in which the Radio 5 Live star revealed that he had been approached to replace Jimmy Young on Radio 2. Not the done thing, my boy. Considered opinion says the only reason Campbell went public was because he had already lost out to the divine Jeremy Vine, the Newsnight presenter once memorably described by a female journalist as having "all the beauty and brains of Paxman without leaving teeth marks".

What could she mean?

This article first appeared in the 12 November 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The Empire strikes back