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Friday, June 26, 1998 Published at 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK


UK Politics

Blair "most dangerous man in Britain?"



By BBC News online's Nick Assinder.

So it's official - Tony Blair is both one of the greatest prime ministers and probably the most dangerous man in Britain.

According to Britain's biggest selling newspaper, The Sun, the man it urged millions of Britons to vote for at the last election is threatening to destroy the country's economy by taking it into the single European currency.

According to the newspaper's editor, David Yelland, monetary union is the single biggest issue facing Britain and, with the encouragement of the newspaper's proprietor Rupert Murdoch, he has repeated its determination to oppose the move at every step.

But the announcement, which does not represent any change of policy by the newspaper, begs some questions.

If the issue is the biggest to face Britain, then why did the newspaper urge people to vote Labour at the last election when it was clear the party was far more positive towards the euro than were the Tories?

Or is it the case that Mr Murdoch believed Mr Blair was ready to take Labour down a more anti-single currency path?

Moves towards Murdoch

Before the election, Labour made positive moves towards Mr Murdoch in a bid to get his newspapers on side.

After all, it was The Sun which boasted it had won the 1992 election for the Tories with its infamous eve-of-poll headline alongside a picture of Neil Kinnock as a light bulb declaring: "Will the last man out of Britain turn out the light."

So Labour was eager to have the Sun on its side. Mr Blair visited Mr Murdoch in Australia before the election, raising speculation that he had tried to woo the media tycoon to the New Labour cause.

And, in March 1997, Alastair Campbell agreed that Mr Blair would write an article for the newspaper about Europe apparently after bumping into the then editor, Stuart Higgins, on the way to a soccer match.

The article painted Mr Blair as a staunch patriot who would never surrender British sovereignty.

Sun switched

"New Labour will have no truck with with a European superstate. We will fight for Britain's interests and to keep our independence every inch of the way," he wrote. It is claimed that was the clincher in swaying The Sun behind New Labour.

Now, The Sun claims the prime minister has softened his line. There was certainly further evidence at the Cardiff European summit last week that Labour was set to join the euro almost immediately if it wins the next election.

But nowhere in Mr Blair's previous pronouncements on a single currency has he even hinted that he was directly opposed to it. Indeed, he has always made it crystal clear that he is in favour of the euro "in principle".

No one believes that Mr Blair did a deal with Mr Murdoch over the euro in return for The Sun's support at the election.

The truth is that neither the prime minister or Mr Murdoch have changed their views on the single currency.

Backing winners

What really happened in those crucial months before the general election was that it became increasingly clear that Labour was going to win - and the Sun and Mr Murdoch like backing winners.

So, once again the newspaper could claim it had won the election for the victor. But it left open the tricky issue of the single currency.

The newspaper is now left in the position where it has to maintain broad support for Mr Blair - as long as he looks like winning the next eleection - while still hammering home its proprietor's views on the euro.

What is equally clear is that, barring some massive unforseen disaster, a second New Labour government will take Britain into the single currency.

So, for Mr Murdoch and the Sun, something will have to give and it will be fascinating to see what.





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