Tony Blair came to have a grudging respect and grew to like Rupert Murdoch, the ‘enigmatic’chief executive of News Corporation.
The former Prime Minster revealed in his memoirs, published today, a brief glimpse of his relationship with Murdoch – the world’s most powerful media mogul and owner of some of the biggest newspapers in the UK.
‘I thought Rupert an enigma, and the more I knew of him, the more I thought it so,’Blair revealed.
‘In the end – and I’m aware of the shrieks of disbelief as I write this – I came to have a grudging respect and even liking for him.
‘He was hard, no doubt. He was right wing. I did not share his attitude in Europe, social policy or on issues such as gay rights, but there were two points of connection: he was an outsider, and he had balls.
‘The ‘outsider’ thing was crucial to understanding him. He remained both immensely powerful and, at certain quite elemental points, anti-establishment.
‘He would admire Mrs Thatcher, but not necessarily the Tory party with all its baggage, airs and graces. That gave me something to work with.”
In the memoir – titled Tony Blair: A Journey – Blair recounts the episode when as opposition leader in 1995 he travelled to Australia to address, at Murdoch’s invitation, the News Corporation conference on Hayman Island.
He travelled to the event in the company of the then Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating.
Blair says that Keating told him ‘he thought Rupert a bastard, but one you could deal with’but prior to the visit his desire to attend had to be kept ‘very quiet indeed”.
Blair said his parliamentary private secretary Bruce Grocott was “aghast” at the decision.
‘If I had told him that I had a friend called Faust and he had cut this really great deal with some bloke called Satan, it couldn’t have gone down worse,’Blair wrote.
‘I also knew that Neil Kinnock would hate it and feel, understandably, betrayed. The Sun had been vicious beyond vicious to him, and as a result had achieved demon status for party activists.
‘People would be horrified [that he was speaking at the conference]. On the other hand, as I said to Alastair [Campbell], not to go was to say carry on and do your worst, and we knew their worst was very bad indeed. No, you sat down to sup; or not. So we did.”