Iain Dale asks today (I'm 8 hours ahead) whether Portillo's been sacked by Murdoch, as his column in the Sunday Times has only appeared once since September. He's still listed as a Times columnist, it appears. Iain Dale says Portillo knows how to write well enough, but leaves it open to interpretation as to what might be going on here.
In truth this merely follows a trend within the Murdoch empire, since Blair left Downing Street.
From before the moment Blair arrived in 1997, he seemed assured of receiving support from Murdoch media. John Major had handed over all of satellite broadcasting to Murdoch, clearly hoping for some loyalty in return, but Murdoch saw that his media empire interests would be better served by forming instead an alliance with Blair.
Murdoch at that time had great hopes of penetrating the EU TV and media market, and while Blair was in Downing St, he seemed for a while to be making progress. See HERE.
Extract from link - John Major, the former British prime minister, is said once to have told his French counterpart; "Don't let him [Murdoch] in. He's destroyed our newspapers, he's destroyed our television, and now he's destroying me. He'll do the same to you". The signs are that the French took Mr Major at his word.
The early promise of a European media empire gradually petered out, as French and German governments in turn chose not to play ball. Murdoch's loyalty to Blair which had initially been based on his European ambitions, then found a second wind over the Iraq war.
In the USA, Murdoch had achieved all he could have dreamed of through Fox TV by playing loyal to those in power, and especially to the Bush family. When Blair committed Britain to backing Bush in Iraq in 2003 over the heads of his own party, he was immediately assured of the 100% backing of Murdoch through the next election which took place in 2005. While securing Murdoch's support, Blair and Campbell also took the sensible action of bringing the BBC to heel over the Andrew Gilligan/David Kelly episode, ensuring their control of the media became near-total.
Had Iraq been a success, Blair would have been unassailable. Instead it was the beginning of his downfall.
Prior to the Iraq deal between Murdoch and Blair, evidenced further by the key part played by Irwin Stelzer in trying to silence David Kelly before his elimination, Murdoch's key focus had been loyalty to the EU and ensuring Blair's political survival. Lance Price, who wrote his memoirs of his time in Downing St 'A Spin Doctor's Diary' was told that Labour could not alter their European Policies without getting clearance from Rupert Murdoch first, no mention of which appears in Alastair Campbell's Diaries.
But what of Portillo?
Alastair Campbell's Diaries do reveal things which relate here. For some reason unexplained and reported by Campbell as if he were also curious as to why, he says that Blair was enthusiastic to 'build up' Michael Portillo, right from the beginning. To my mind there seems little doubt that Portillo's role was to act as a fifth column within the Conservatives to undermine them and prevent them from winning power, and ensure that Blair remained supreme. If Portillo had won the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2001, it is quite possible he would have enabled Blair to push Britain into the Euro.
Portillo's disloyalty to Major was blatant. His disloyalty to IDS, on the other hand, who won the Party leadership from under his nose, was far more than that. He led the media assault in 2003 which began in February and finally succeeded in October in unseating IDS. IDS was getting too high in the opinion polls for comfort (35%) and was attacking Blair for dishonesty with great success 'Mr Blair, no one believes a single word you say' etc. IDS was also articulating a new vision for Britain's relationship with Europe based on free-trading democratic independent nations. None of this suited Murdoch's objectives of currying favour with the EU, and assisting Bush in Iraq. IDS was fed to the wolves.
At this stage Portillo was extremely useful to Murdoch and Blair. He was given his Sunday Times column and his place on THIS WEEK in Politics on the BBC, along with soft TV exposure such as living for a week as the stand-in parent for a single mother in Liverpool.
Today though, Portillo's out of vogue. He is another creature who cannot adapt to the end of the Blair era. Murdoch's no longer trying to form an alliance with EU countries and play along with the EU for favours, and keep the Conservatives on the back foot. He's changed tack. He is 'letting' The Sun lead the attack on the Referendum broken promise by Labour on the EU Constitution. He similarly allowed Cameron to attack the Human Rights Act in The Sun over the inability to deport convicted EU rapists and violent offenders.
Instead of being useful with his bitterness against the Conservative Party that failed to reward him with the leadership in 2001 after Hague resigned, and helpful in that he was an admirer and supporter of Blair, he now stands in the way of Cameron. Cameron fits in with Murdoch's new strategy of playing tough with the EU, while building a more mature and balanced alliance of the free world against Islamic terror.
Murdoch's got all he's likely to get in the UK, snatching Test Cricket in the latter stages of Blair to add to all the rest he possessed. All Cameron has to do is not threaten Murdoch's accumulated favours. His euroscepticism fits well with Murdoch's next business objectives. Murdoch obviously believes he can do better (like most people do) once the EU is consigned to history, and he can work without the stultifying effects of powerful self-serving bureaucracy frustrating his every move.
After being the EU's greatest supporter in the UK throughout the period of the Blair/Murdoch alliance (1995-2007), he has now swung the other way.
He is making great strides in the US recently landing the Wall Street Journal. As the world's economy surges ahead elsewhere, Europe's becoming a political side-show.
Portillo just doesn't fit any more, and his star is waning. Unable to do what is now required, that is, express enthusiasm for David Cameron and give backing to Conservative Party members who rejected him, he is now left stranded by the tide on a lonely windswept sand bar. Like Gordon Brown, he was only 'someone', while he was useful to Blair and Murdoch. That moment has gone. Blair's gone. Murdoch though lives on in supervision over British politics, as if some kind of behind-the-scenes monarch.
Last time I wrote a similar assessment to this, my blog was jammed up for months by hackers. That was before Blair went. Let's hope that Murdoch's hackers are not sent into action again this time. I'm writing on their side this time.