Rupert Murdoch is considering backing Boris Johnson to replace David Cameron as Tory leader as he takes to Twitter to praise the London mayor’s “brilliant” organisation of the Olympics.
The media tycoon, who five weeks ago was declaring he had “moved on” from Britain, has flown into London with his wife, Wendi Deng, to meet Johnson at the Olympics on Friday, when he will be one of the mayor’s guests at the Aquatics Centre.
They will watch British star Rebecca Adlington defend her 800m gold as part of what Johnson has called his “gigantic schmoozathon” to “shamelessly promote” London to investors.
Sources familiar with Murdoch’s thinking believe he remains sceptical of Cameron as the economy worsens and say he has been impressed by the way Johnson has put London on the map. He can also identify with the indifference the mayor shows towards his critics.
The love-in seems to be paying off. Johnson’s ratings have improved and Murdoch’s bitterness towards Britain seems to have been washed away.
“London in best shape ever,” Murdoch tweeted on Thursday after arriving in town. “All overboard about the Olympics, brilliantly organized by Zeb Coe and Boris Johnson”. Later, he corrected himself. “Sorry, it’s Sebastian Coe, not Zeb!”
The Murdoch-Johnson relationship could have implications beyond the Olympics, as traditional Tory-supporting newspaper groups start to mutter about the beginning of the end for Cameron.
Four minutes after tweeting about Johnson’s brilliance, Murdoch delivered what some believed was a swipe at Cameron and the chancellor, George Osborne: “Better enjoy Games while they last. Hangover coming with bad economic outlook truly worldwide.”
Sources say t Murdoch has been sceptical about Cameron and Osborne’s ability to lead the country out of a recession and his lack of support for the Tory leader pre-dates his humiliation in front of the parliamentary select committee and the revelations about phone hacking.
Although the Sun switched allegiance from Labour to the Tories in September 2009, insiders say former chief executive Rebekah Brooks was still finding it hard to “sell” Cameron to Murdoch last January when Murdoch flew in for a series of business meetings at News International.
Johnson has already seen Murdoch on at least one occasion – he dined with him at his London home in January 2011, days before Scotland Yard launched its investigation into phone hacking.
Murdoch has just hired Johnson’s former PR chief to head News International’s communications team.
Johnson’s decision to invite Murdoch amazed some of his rivals, given that investigations into alleged criminal activity at News International titles are ongoing and the head of the Metropolitan police inquiries, Sue Akers, told the Leveson inquiry last week that she had sought advice on bringing charges for “corporate offences” against the company. Johnson, who dismissed the phone-hacking scandal early on as “codswallop”, has a role in overseeing the Met.
Last week, Brooks and six other former senior executives and journalists from the News of the World were charged in relation to phone hacking. Brooks was formally charged last night and is to appear at Westminster magistrates court on 3 September.
Jenny Jones, a Green party member of the London assembly who sits on the police and crime committee, said inviting Murdoch was inappropriate and showed “appalling judgment”. There was no doubt that Johnson was milking the Olympics as much as he could, turning it into a potential launchpad for a leadership challenge, she said.
Defending his decision to invite Murdoch, Johnson told the Evening Standard: “There’s a sort of demonisation of Rupert Murdoch who, as far as I understand it, is not a proscribed character, he’s not a convicted criminal. He’s not even under any criminal investigation.”
On Thursday Johnson played down his soaring popularity during the Olympics by insisting that it will all come “crashing down” once London 2012 is over.
He made his remarks as a YouGov poll conducted for the Sun revealed the Tories would get a bounce in support if Johnson replaced Cameron. It found 34% of people would vote for a Cameron-led Tory party, while 40% would vote for Labour under Ed Miliband’s leadership. If Johnson were party leader, Tory support would rise to 37%, while Labour’s would fall to 38%.
Murdoch told Lord Justice Leveson when he testified that if anyone wanted to know what he was thinking, they should read the Sun.
On Thursday it was helping Johnson recover his dignity after getting wedgied on a zip wire when an Olympics promotion went wrong describing him as “game for a laugh”.
At the Daily Mail, the voice of middle England, there is little support for Cameron and Osborne, either.
Insiders say there is “no love lost” between editor in chief Paul Dacre and Johnson, but equally there is little “sympatico” with Cameron. The paper’s leaders have notably have been praising Ian Duncan Smith and Michael Gove.
On Thursday, the Mail’s leader said both men were “doing valuable work” in welfare reform and education and should not be reshuffled.
Sources point out that Dacre has recently been enthusing about Ed Miliband. “He thinks he has been quite good on Europe and quite good on exposing the bankers in one or two speeches. He is surprisingly impressed with how he has grown into the job.”
He thinks Johnson, on the other hand, is sharp and amusing, but his private life disqualifies him from being prime minister.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Seit 1996 bin ich freier Mitarbeiter der Salzgitter-Zeitung, als Experte für das Geschehen im hiesigen Kreisfußball. Daneben sind meine Kolumnen seit 2005 fester Bestandteil im Lokalteil der Salzgitter-Zeitung. Zusammen mit Frau und Tochter sowie zwei gefräßigen wie faulen Stubentigern versuche ich das zu meistern, was das Leben, das Universum und der ganze Rest an Absurditäten für uns bereithalten.