Earlier in the week, Rupert Murdoch gave an interview to one of his own papers in Australia. Asked if there was a chance he would support the Conservatives in the next general election, he answered with a Majoresque “Oh yes”.
The role of Murdoch’s papers in swinging British elections, particularly the Sun, has passed into political folklore. “It Was The Sun Wot Won It”, the paper itself proclaimed after Major’s victory in 1992. More recently, and particularly since Murdoch’s mid-1990s switch to supporting Labour under Tony Blair, something of a revisionist thesis has developed: that Murdoch doesn’t use his influence to make politicians successful; he supports successful politicians to perpetuate his influence.
If you follow this school of thought, then you would expect Murdoch to survey the present political scene and move into “wait and see” mode: ready to make a judgement as events progress, but publicly musing on it well in advance (if he were quiet until the landscape became clearer, he would appear to be only following and not leading).
And the interview reflects exactly that:
“But, for no reason other than the dynamics of British politics, we would like to see at least a year to 18 months stand-off between Gordon Brown and David Cameron so we can decide which of those most coincides with our views.
“Those two are going to decide the next election and I think the British public would be cheated if they only got a month or two’s warning.”
The touch of genius is in Murdoch’s warning to Brown not to call a snap election. Given Brown’s famous prudence, this is rather like standing in the Sahara, shaking your fist at the sky in a warning for it not to rain, then claiming your powers have secured another dry day.
All in all, no real reason for this to move the betting. Some of the relevant odds are:
Largest party in next Parliament: 0.94/1 Con; 1.08/1 Lab
Blair departure: 7/2 2006; 4/6 2007; 4/1 2008; 12/1 2009; 40/1 2010 or later
Next Labour leader: 0.41/1 Brown; 7.6/1 Johnson; 18/1 bar
Mike Smithson returns on 10th July.