Sinking ship of Tories

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 August, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 August, 1994, 12:00am

THERE could hardly have been a better indicator of Labour's electability than when Rupert Murdoch suggested this week that he could see his British newspapers backing Tony Blair's party at the next general election.

Labour is now running a record 33 per cent ahead of the Tories in the polls and the sea of change in British politics that is taking place under Mr Blair has become clear.

He has seized so much of the middle ground that even big companies traditionally loyal to the Tories are rushing forward to woo him.

Glaxo and United Biscuits, Britain's leading snack producer, traditionally big donors to the Tory party, are thinking of switching allegiances.

It is still unlikely that Hong Kong's big companies, which contributed so generously to Margaret Thatcher's Tory party, will be approached by Labour though. The party is still twitchy about receiving money from overseas.

But British business is anxious to get a look in at the Labour conference. Supermarket giant Sainsbury's and courier DHL are among the 150 or so companies queuing up for exhibition space at the party's October conference in Blackpool.

At Conservative Central Office they deny panic but the race to abandon the Tories is gathering pace. Mr Murdoch's indication that The Sun, Britain's biggest selling paper, might switch allegiance is no doubt a decision based on commercial expediency rather than ideological bent. It also has a lot to do with Labour concerns over cross-media ownership and Murdoch's possession of five national titles as well as the Sky TV satellite network.

But the threat of The Sun coming out for Labour must worry the Tories - its scaremongering against Labour in recent elections has delivered millions of votes to the Conservatives.

Other traditional areas of support are vanishing too. The Daily Telegraph, that bastion of Conservative Britain carried a lengthy feature this week headlined: ''Why even Telegraph readers are abandoning the Tories.'' Tory diehards such as the Daily Mail and Daily Express seem unlikely to switch camps but they have nonetheless been fiercely critical of John Major.

But some of the loudest alarm bells should be ringing in the headquarters of the embattled Liberal Democrat Party.

Three of the so-called ''Gang of Four'' - the leading Labour politicians who defected to form the Social Democratic Party and subsequently merged with the Liberals - believed they had found a moderate, electable non-socialist opposition to the Conservatives, only it has now been usurped by the Labour Party. They are saying they could support a Blair-led Labour government, not a Paddy Ashdown-led Liberal Democrat government of the sort they should strictly be backing.

Nonetheless there will be Tory voters who will still not be able to make the emotional leap all the way from Conservatives to even a Blair-led Labour. They might vote for the Liberal Democrats as ''centre party'' as some kind of insurance against Mr Blair falling victim to the left-wing of the Labour Party.

Mr Blair could yet run into trouble over Labour's spending plans, its unclear taxation policies and perhaps even over its proposals to amend the constitution and turn the House of Lords into a second elected chamber.

ALTHOUGH the polls indicate a huge majority for Labour if there was an election tomorrow, we have to recognise that Mr Blair is still very much in his honeymoon period. He hasn't even stood up against Mr Major on the floor of the Commons.

The chances of a hung parliament or a tiny, unworkable majority for Labour after the next election are still high, and history shows that Labour has never won an outright working majority directly from a Conservative government.

Voters will also remember Labour's union paymasters and who knows how they will behave over the next two years as the chance of achieving power gets ever nearer. Already in the rail strike we are seeing old-style union intransigence of a kind we thought had ceased to exist. Mr Blair has remained studiously aloof from the dispute but will he really be able to sideline the union leaders for long?