by RAY FLEMING
RUPERT Murdoch must be getting forgetful in his old age. Perhaps it's just as well that the elevation of his son James to the role of chief executive of BSkyB was approved (grudgingly) by the company's shareholders on Friday. My reason for suspecting that his memory may be going is simply that in a BBC television interview on Friday night he expressed doubts about whether his UK newspapers would continue to support Labour at the next general election. This is the very first time, to my knowledge, that Mr Murdoch has ever admitted in public that he decides what political line The Times, The Sun and The News of the World should take. Of course, we all know that the editors do what their proprietor tells them – there's nothing very unusual about that – but Murdoch has in the past insisted that his editors were free to make up their own minds about the advice they give to their readers on voting.
True, Mr Murdoch's comments were tentative: “The election is a long way away, let's see what the government is doing with Europe, let's see how Mr Howard performs, how the government performs.” But he also said that “the jury's out” on Tony Blair and that if Michael Howard turns the Conservatives into a viable alternative “we may be torn in our decision”.

The combined readership of the three newspapers owned by Mr Murdoch is in the region of 20 million people. If the two tabloid papers were to side with the Conservatives in 2005 it would be a very serious matter for Labour which has had their support at the last two elections. The remarkable thing, though, is that as an American citizen Mr Murdoch has no vote in Britain.