BUSINESS CLASS: Murdoch's election blues

Our travels this week take us to London, where an Australian publisher with an American passport is watching his political influence get sold down the Thames.

If you thought Gordon Brown was having a bad election, spare some sympathy for Rupert Murdoch. After, you know, practically winning the election for John Major and the Conservatives back in 1992, and then giving Labour and Blair a massive leg-up in 1997, he's having a dog of a 2010 in terms of the wielding of political influence.

It seems Rupert was convinced by son James, who was convinced by former Sun editor and Murdoch clan confidant Rebekah Brooks (nee Wade), that his UK newspapers should support David Cameron, Britain's Conservative party candidate for prime minister.

"This took some doing," says Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff on Newser, "because Murdoch had become a good friend and pretty loyal supporter of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

But since the The Sun came out for the Tories the party has seen its poll rating drop from 41 per cent to 33 per cent, prompting the Financial Times to begin charting Cameron’s downward movement under the inevitable headline "It’s The Sun Wot Lost it”.

And when Lib-Dem candidate Nick Clegg emerged as the underdog alternative to Labour last week, the Murdoch papers embarked upon what Wolff described as "a full-scale attack on Clegg with hardly any pretence other than to help Cameron".

And then, last week, The Independent ran a front page with the headline "Rupert Murdoch will not decide the outcome of the election. You will.”

Such effrontery triggered what Wolff has described as "a coming-apart-at-the-seams scenario", in which Wade/Brooks and James Murdoch "stormed over to The Independent, breached its security systems, barged into the offices of the (paper's) editor-in-chief and top executive, Simon Kelner, and commenced, in Brit-speak, a giant row."

Their goal, says Wolff, was to put forward "that newspaper publishers don’t slag off other newspaper publishers in polite Britain," least of all the Murdochs. But they then went and undermined their argument, adds Wolff in a later Newser post, by "threatening to investigate Evgeny Lebedev, the son of The Independent’s new owner, Russian businessman, Alexander Lebedev (also the owner of the Evening Standard)."

This was almost certainly a bad move. As was the push to get daddy on the Tory train. As Wolff points out, "Murdoch likes winners, even more than he likes Conservatives."

If things keep going the way they are for the Tories and for Clegg, and if Gordon Brown can keep his keep mouth shut and his mike off, the younger Murdoch might find his plans for promotion relegated to the back burner.

But while there's still an election to be won, Cameron's opponents best remember that you can't keep a good Murdoch down. And as Wolff says, "James is sometimes described as trying to out-Murdoch his father." So expect to see more outlandish Sky News and News of the World antics and more Murdoch henchmen, hopped-up on election fumes, interviewing incensed pensioners with views that some may describe as "bigoted". On that subject, here's our favourite bit of the Gordon-Brown-unintentionally-insults-Rochdale-pensioner-Gillian-Duffy media circus:

Reporter 1: Do you think [Gordon Brown] understands enough about what’s going on?

GD: No. They’re that much locked up there. [Takes phone call] Excuse me. Hello?

Reporter 1: I think you’re still live on television at the moment, but you can talk to two audiences at once if you like. Mrs Duffy obviously taking a call, perhaps somebody’s seeing her on television at the moment.

Reporter 2: Mrs Duffy, is that somebody calling to tell you you’re live on Sky News?

GD: No, it’s Lucy or someone.

Perhaps "Lucy-or-someone" was calling to suggest that this election campaign has taken the whole wag-the-dog thing to ridiculous new heights. That's certainly the opinion of the Clegg-supporting Guardian's John Prescott, who has a message for Rupert and his increasingly Ruperty son James:

"What Murdoch's Sky News did [this week] was just as bad as his paper's phone-hacking [in which News International hacked hundreds of phones and saw one of their reporters jailed after listening to and publishing conversations involving the Royal Family]. It was a breach of privacy. It was underhand. And it was done in the pursuit of ratings and political influence.

"So let's show them that Britain is not for sale. That an Australian with an American passport cannot buy our general election."

So it's game on. Although it looks like team Murdoch-Cameron has some unexpected support. May the best rag win.

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