This morning, it is not only England’s cricketers who are experiencing batting difficulties: the blessed Tone is also having to go in facing a hostile barrage, and one that may not be as well-intentioned as Mitchell Johnson. Because his long love affair with Rupert Murdoch has been well and truly torn asunder by a welter of recrimination, aided by a generous helping of nudge-nudgery.
Beyond an accusing Mail On Sunday headline, thundering “Murdoch’s Feud With Blair Over Wife Wendi”, the rest of the text does not make happy reading for Tone and his pals, going on “'Terminal' end of friendship over claims of 'multiple encounters' between ex-PM and tycoon's wife”. Are you insinuating something, Simon Walters? “Oh no, no, no, no, no, no ... YES”.
The nod and wink could not be more suggestive: “Sources claim that Mr Blair and Ms Deng had ‘multiple encounters’ of which Mr Murdoch was unaware ... The former Prime Minister has always maintained his friendship with Ms Deng is platonic ... The Blair camp insists the claims are 'ridiculous and untrue'”. Note use of the word “encounter”. We’ve all seen Brief Encounter.
So what’s involved? “Sources close to Mr Murdoch in London say that staff at his home in California claimed Mr Blair and Ms Deng stayed there overnight at the same time on weekends in October 2012 and April this year, without Mr Murdoch’s knowledge ... [plus] a weekend overnight stay at Mr Murdoch’s home in Los Angeles and meetings in London and New York”.
As Sir Sean nearly said, I think we got the point, especially when Walters deploys the denial-that-is-merely-cover-as-insisted-upon-by-the-legal-team: “There is no suggestion by this newspaper of any impropriety by Mr Blair or Ms Deng. And Mr Blair’s friends have repeatedly denied he had an affair with Ms Deng”. No suggestion, but the sub-text is spun more heavily than a Shane Warne flipper.
Add to this the Telegraph lifting the story – both they and the Mail would normally steer clear of discussing other media figures, as part of the press adherence to the code of Omerta – and you can see that the papers sense there is more to this than has so far been revealed. And Blair’s camp is not helping its cause by dismissing Murdoch’s statements as “the ravings of a sad old man”.
Rupe’s official statement should be read carefully: “Rupert has been thorough, careful and has not acted lightly ... If you think that Rupert made a decision to end his marriage and a long-term friendship without just cause, you are sorely mistaken”. That means he’s done his homework, he took the decision on the basis of thorough research, and there may be more to come – at his discretion.
So Tony Blair would be best advised to keep schtum for some time to come.