What’s more damaging for Labour’s credibility? Being abandoned by the Sun or the reaction of senior New Labour figures to being abandoned by the Sun? Like a teenage girl forced to pretend that she never really adored the boyfriend who’s unceremoniously dumped her, and then told everyone in school that he’s dumped her, petulant Labour figures have reacted with defiance, pretending not to care and even claiming to welcome the decision of the Sun to back the Tories, rather than Labour, for the first time in 12 years. I don’t mind Tony Woodley of Unite tearing up a copy of the Sun in anger on the conference platform in Brighton — the unions never liked Murdoch or his minions. But John Prescott? He’s tweeted:
Murdoch supports Tories! It’s enough to make me vote Labour!
Really? Here is a man who was one of the (unsung) architects of New Labour, which wooed and adored Rupert Murdoch and his newspaper empire for 15 years. Here is a man who was deputy prime minister in a government in which Murdoch, according to the former Labour spin doctor Lance Price, “seemed like the 24th member of the cabinet. His voice was rarely heard (but then the same could have been said of many of the other 23) but his presence was always felt.”
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. On all the really big decisions, anybody else could safely be ignored.
So what was Prescott’s view of Murdoch when the press baron was backing Labour? Did it make him want to vote Tory? Did Prezza ever object to Tony Blair’s numerous journeys across the world to kneel in the court of King Rupert?
And what about Alastair Campbell? Here’s his take, from his blog:
The switch was entirely predictable, and had been evident for some time. It was merely a matter of when. For Labour, it should actually help the feeling of fighting back that has finally been around this week. If you’re the underdog, might as well have it clear that you’re the underdog.
It should “help”? Hold on! This former spinner-in-chief is the man who led New Labour’s charm offensive against the Sun and the Times, helping Blair get his various audiences with Murdoch, feeding stories to the Sun and the Times before other papers — and using the platform of Britain’s biggest-selling daily newspaper for his own ends. Here is one example, from Sky’s Adam Boulton:
During the 1997 party conference negative headlines were building up because of a string of mishaps. Campbell blotted them out of the Sun the next day by informing Britain’s top-selling daily that an actor, Nicola Pagett, who had manic depression, had been sending him explicit love letters.
The Sun‘s front-page headline blazed: EXCLUSIVE: TV STAR’S TWISTED LOVE FOR BLAIR’S TOP MAN, while the opening sentence helpfully clarified that “the Premier’s trusted chief press secretary was the innocent victim of the actress’s deluded passion”.
There is a rather apt section in Campbell’s diaries (via the Telegraph) in which he recalls Neil Kinnock’s objection, back in the mid-1990s, to Blair and Brown’s strategy of cosying up to Murdoch, and the former Labour leader’s prescient warning about the potential for duplicity:
Neil Kinnock exploded with rage at Campbell over Mr Blair’s decision to fly to Australia to try to woo Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid Sun to the New Labour cause.
The row erupted in the south of France in 1995 where Campbell and his family were on holiday, having invited Mr Kinnock and his wife Glenys Kinnock, who were close friends, to stay.
“He’s sold out even before he has got there,” Kinnock raged as he clutched a kettle full of boiling water which Campbell feared was heading in his direction.
“Tax, health, education, unions, full employment, race, immigration, everything, he’s totally sold out. What are we for?
”It won’t matter if we win as the bankers and stockbrokers have got us already by the f*****g balls. And that is before you take your 30 pieces of silver.” Challenged to explain what he meant, he spat out: “Murdoch.” Kinnock said: “You imagine what it’s like having your head stuck inside a f*****g light bulb then tell me how I am supposed to feel when you set off halfway round the world to grease him up.”
He was referring to the front page of the Sun on polling day in 1992 under the headline: “Last one out turn the lights off”.
Campbell countered that they had given Murdoch nothing, but Kinnock said: “You will. And he will take it. You will get his support and then you will get the support of a few racist b*******, and then you’ll lose it again the minute that we are in trouble.”
How right you were, Neil . . . and how foolish (and now hypocritical) Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Campbell, Prescott and the rest have been.
Further to the comment from David (son of John?) Prescott, below, I am happy to clarify that my proud ignorance of social networking resulted in a slight misquote. However, I am not sure how this “screws up” my “rant”, because Prezza does himself say, via Twitter:
Shock horror! The Sun joins the Bullingdon Club. Thank god for that!
He also refers to Murdoch as a “press baron”. So, the question remains: are these views he held in the mid-to-late 1990s when the Labour leadership was courting News International and, in particular, the Sun? Did John Prescott curse “god” when Murdoch decided to back Labour and not the Tories in 1997? Did he ever call him a “press baron” to his face, when Rupe and co were dining at Downing Street at the taxypayers’ expense, courtesy of numerous invitations from Prezza’s boss and friend, Tony Blair?