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.”