The Trail of Guilt Leads All the Way to Downing Street; A Former Adviser to Tony Blair Describes His Shock at Discovering How Rupert Murdoch Made Prime Ministers Dance like Puppets

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), July 10, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Trail of Guilt Leads All the Way to Downing Street; A Former Adviser to Tony Blair Describes His Shock at Discovering How Rupert Murdoch Made Prime Ministers Dance like Puppets


Byline: LANCE PRICE

THE morning after David Cameron became Prime Minister, Rupert Murdoch was seen slipping out of the back door of No10. Inside the building, one of his former tabloid editors, Andy Coulson, was starting work as communications director. Even on his first day in office, Mr Cameron believed Murdoch was too powerful a man to say 'no' to. Back home in Scotland, Gordon Brown was convinced that if it weren't for News International, he would still be Prime Minister. It is a view he clings to today.

As first the News of the World, and then the whole of News International, started to turn toxic, David Cameron and Ed Miliband frantically waved their hands through the air above their heads. 'Look, no strings,' they seemed to cry. But the truth is that Murdoch had politicians dancing like puppets for too long.

On one level, it was a relationship born out of hard-headed self-interest on both sides. As Leader of the Opposition, Tony Blair flew to Australia to address senior executives of Murdoch's parent company, News Corporation. Before the meeting, he got some advice from Paul Keating, then prime minister of Australia, on how to deal with the tycoon. Keating told Blair: 'You can do deals with him without ever saying a deal has been done.' And that is exactly what happened.

There was no paper trail. Nothing was put in writing. There wasn't even anything left on a voicemail for somebody else to hack into. The deals were unspoken but they were as real as if they'd been written in blood.

Tony Blair wasn't the first to agree to such a Faustian pact and he wouldn't be the last. It was the same for Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron.

Murdoch will always back a winner. Convince him you're going to succeed and he'll throw his weight behind you. Not just because it creates the impression - falsely in my view - that leaders need his support to get into No10.

Murdoch is a businessman first, second and last. Playing politics for politics' sake comes very low down his list of priorities. His son James, now running the parent company's international operations, including its British newspapers, is no different.

News Corporation's commercial interests are well served if the man or woman inside Downing Street feels indebted to its titles.

And if the Prime Minister lives in fear of those papers switching sides, the grip of power is even tighter. So Murdoch's editors and journalists get special access and are hand-fed 'scoops', and the governing party - he doesn't much care which - gets more than a fair wind from some of the bestselling papers in the land.

I saw all of this first-hand when I started working for Tony Blair a year after he became Prime Minister. I was shocked to be told by one of those who'd been closely involved with the talks in Australia, and subsequently, that 'we've promised News International we won't make any changes to our Europe policy without talking to them'.

If that had been known publicly, we would have been accused of giving a veto over a crucial part of Government policy to an unelected media tycoon who wasn't even a British citizen.

In 2004, the News of the World called Blair a 'traitor' for refusing a referendum on the new European constitution. Murdoch himself approved the word. One of his trusted confidants then told the Prime Minister he wouldn't get the backing of News International titles in the upcoming General Election unless he did a U-turn.

He did, and within days The Sun secured the scoop. There was pressure from Cabinet to switch policy, but many suspected the deal in Australia was the deciding factor.

The view of those who had flown halfway across the world with Blair was that a deal had indeed been done. If Labour left News International's business interests alone, the party would be rewarded in headlines and sympathetic articles. …

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