By DAVID WOODING
MYTHS and conspiracy theories galore have been peddled at the Leveson inquiry about the power broking that goes on between newspaper owners and political leaders.
But today I find myself agreeing with Alastair Campbell. Labour’s former spin doctor told the hearing there was no “express deal” between Labour’s Tony Blair and Rupert Murdoch in the run-up to the 1997 election.
He goes even further and downplays the “perceived power” of newspapers to influence elections.
“I just don’t buy it,” he said. “The Sun backed us because we knew we were going to win. We didn’t win because The Sun backed us.”
There are two things that trouble me, however, about his insistence that Labour didn’t care whether or not he won the support of Britain’s top-selling newspaper.
First of all, why was the party leadership so incensed when The Sun ended 13 years of support?
And secondly, I wonder if he could explain the slightly different view voiced in a private discussion I had with a senior figure close to Mr Blair just before polling closed on May 1, 1997.
I am not going to reveal my source, but I was summoned to a hotel room in Sedgefield and told in gushing terms how The Sun helped to clinch the landslide victory.
The Labour source said: “The Press has made a huge difference in this campaign.
“If we’d had The Sun going on at us hell-for-leather on Europe, it could have been a different story.”
I used his words to create a story under the headline “It was The Sun wot swung it” which was publshed next day. (See reproduction of the story below)
My own view has always been that politicians talk to journalists to spread their message, promote themselves, and smear the opposition – sometimes those within their own party.
We in turn stay close to them because it’s our job to get stories.
Funny how one party cries foul when the other is getting all the attention and then says it is perfectly above board when it’s their turn to get a good Press.
Give us credit for your successes if you want to – or claim it was all your own work.
But you can’t have it both ways.
The article from The Sun, May 2, 1997:
It’s The Sun wot swung it
By DAVID WOODING
JUBILANT Tony Blair praised The Sun last night for helping to clinch his stunning General Election victory.
The new PM admittedBritain’s favourite newspaper played a big part in swinging millions of voters behind New Labour.
He told party bigwigs our support was vital in spreading the message that the party was fit to govern.
A source close to Mr Blair said: “The Press has made a huge difference in this campaign.
“If we’d had The Sun going at us hell-for-leather onEurope, it could have been a different story.”
It is the SECOND time in five years that a political leader has said “Thanks my Sun” for helping him to electoral triumph. After John Major clinched victory from Labour at the 1992 poll, Tories admitted: “It’s The Sun what won it.”
Mr Blair was swift to give credit to our role in his win when he looked back over his 34-day election trail.
He believes the size of his majority was down to the success of his carefully-run campaign – and getting the message across.
But he was also thankful for a series of own-goals from the Tories, whose election strategy he branded “a shambles.”
A senior source in the Labour leadership camp said: “We did an awful lot right and they didn’t score many points on the key issues.
“One of their big mistakes was thinking a long campaign would suit them. In fact, it was great for us. We are used to it. We ran an extremely successful campaign. Our message was loud and clear. We were all singing from the same hymn sheet.
“But if there is one person responsible for the result, it is Tony.
“He was fantastic and this will give him added strength when he moves into No 10 as Prime Minister.”
For the first time, officials admitted Mr Blair was hit by the jitters as John Major tried to make him crack.
Tories even put an undercover “gaffe watch” unit on the Labour leader and deputy John Prescott for three weeks. But they called off the spy team when they failed to find a single chink in Labour’s slick campaign strategy.
A source added: “Tony would be the first to admit he was very tense at the start of the campaign.
“Although he knew much time and effort would be spent trying to discredit him, I don’t think it dawned on him until it started.
“There was a certain amount of tension. The last weeks have meant a huge change in his family’s lives.
“He grew in confidence and stature as time went on, and by the final week he was really motoring. It has been superb to watch him go.”
Mr Blair admitted last night he feels SORRY for John Major. A source said: “He has some sympathy, but thinks Mr Major never faced up to the difficulties in the Tory Party.”
By DAVID WOODING
LABOUR leader Ed Miliband rejuvenated his top team today by bringing five new MPs into his inner circle.
Rookies from the 2010 intake were promoted to the front bench as Mr Miliband staged his first shadow cabinet reshuffle since he landed the job a year ago.
Mr Miliband took advantage of a party rule change which allows him to choose his own spokesmen – ending the traditional elections by MPs, union chiefs and grass roots members.
Five senior MPs go out to make way for new blood – most of whom have only been MPs for less than 18 months.
Rachel Reeves (pictured right), a former Bank of England economist, becomes deputy to Ed Balls in the Treasury team. She has impressed the leadership with a wave of TV appearances since winning the Leeds West seat last year. The previous holder of the post, Angela Eagle, moves to be shadow Commons leader.
Stephen Twigg, also part of the 2010 intake, takes over as shadow education secretary, the present incumbent, Andy Burnham, moving to health – where he served as secretary of state in the last government.
Chuka Umunna, another talented, young new arrival, gets the important business brief.
Rising star Michael Dugher (pictured below left) will attend shadow Cabinet as Cabinet Office spokesman without portfolio along with fellow newcomer Liz Kendall, who becomes shadow minister for care of older people.
In other changes, Hilary Benn takes over at Communities and Local Government, raising the delicious prospect of regular Commons jousts with Eric Pickles.
He said he was “delighted” to be returning to that field and added: “My time there was one of my most satisfying in government, helping to change the world.” Mr Lewis is replaced at Culture by deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman.
Five people leave the shadow cabinet, including shadow business secretary John Denham and health spokesman John Healey who stepped down hours before the reshuffle. (See following story)
Those sacked by Mr Miliband include Shaun Woodward, replaced at Northern Ireland by Vernon Coaker and Meg Hillier, who gives way at energy for Caroline Flint. Ann McKechin is dropped as shadow Scottish secretary in favour of Margaret Curran.
Eleven shadow minister held on to the same jobs, including the top three – shadow chancellor Ed Balls, his wife Yvette Cooper at home affairs and Douglas Alexander as Foreign Office spokesman.
Sadiq Khan keeps his job as shadow justice secretary and chief whip Rosie Winterton remains in place, as does Jim Murphy at defence, Maria Eagle at transport and Tessa Jowell on Olympics.
Peter Hain remains shadow Wales secretary, Mary Creagh will continue speaking on the environment and Liam Byrne stays on as shadow work and pensions secretary.
By DAVID WOODING
TWO former ministers have quit the shadow cabinet tonight as Ed Miliband prepares to beef up his frontbench team.
John Denham and John Healey stood down from frontline politics just hours before the Labour leader is expected to begin drawing up his new line-up.
Mr Miliband is certain to take advantage of a change in the rulebook he forced through, ending election of party spokesmen – giving him a free hand to pick who he wants.
But the departure of two big guns is a major blow to his leadership. Mr Insiders insist the departures were “civilised” and both men had indicated some time ago that they wished to stand down.
Mr Denham, 58, said he had decided some time ago not to seek re-election at the next election and it would be wrong to stay on if he had no chance of becoming a minister if Labour were to win.
The shadow business secretary, who served in Gordon Brown’s cabinet, has agreed to stay on as Mr Miliband’s unpaid Private Parliamentary Secretary as a sign of loyalty to his boss.
Shadow health secretary Mr Healey said his decision was made for “family reasons”. But he was said to be furious over the leadership’s decision to allow tobacco firms to take part in a business even at last week’s Labour rally.
And critics had been whispering for some time that Mr Healey had been under-performing and had failed to make political capital out of the coalition’s shambolic NHS reforms.
Last night there were some nervous-looking faces on Labour front benches as they awaited the call from Mr Miliband.
Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham could be switched to the health brief – as he was secretary of state in that field in the last government.
But Mr Miliband is certain to seize the chance to inject some fresh blood into the party, with rookie Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves tipped for a place on the front benches.
Senior figures such as shadow chancellor Ed Balls and, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander are expected to stay in place.
New talent tipped for promotion includes Michael Dugher, a former Downing Street aide and now MP for Barnsley East, Stoke MP Tristram Hunt and ex-TV reporter Gloria del Piero, the MP for Ashfield.
Suggestions that the former Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer would return to politics as shadow leader of the Lords, opposing Lord Strathclyde, were dismissed.
A Labour spokesman said: “We do not comment on reshuffle speculation.”
Who would you bring into the shadow cabinet if you were Ed Miliband?
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