Hunt defends himself, Murdoch questions Brown’s state of mind
In the Commons, David Cameron wrapped himself and his culture secretary in the words Lord Justice Leveson used at the start of today’s evidence session saying he hadn’t formed judgments yet on what happened over News Corp’s bid for the 61 per cent of BSkyB it didn’t own. Ed Miliband came back with the argument that it’s not for Leveson to decide who is fit to remain a minister.
David Cameron then stayed in the Commons to show support for Jeremy Hunt during his statement. Mr Hunt said the “alleged” back channel “didn’t influence my decisions.” He says the “volume and tone” of his special adviser’s communications with Team Murdoch was wrong and he had “unintentionally” over-stepped the mark. Harriet Harman says Mr Hunt is responsible for his special adviser under the Ministerial Code and so should go.
Back at Leveson, Rupert Murdoch claimed that Gordon Brown threatened to wage “war” on the Murdoch empire after The Sun backed the Tories in 2009, just after Gordon Brown’s conference speech. Mr Murdoch said he thought from the phone call that Mr Brown “wasn’t in a very balanced state of mind.”
We see from Rupert Murdoch’s witness statement that we will later get to see some correspondence between Gordon Brown and Rupert Murdoch when the documents are put on-line. No sign Rupert M is putting similar correspondence which presumably exists with his continuing friend Tony Blair in the public domain. He insists he still respects GB but I suspect GB won’t be thrilled to see RM mentioning their children had play dates and cosy foursome dinners with their wives, organised by Sarah Brown.
He remembers meeting David Cameron on his yacht in 2008. He says he had zero contact with David Cameron about Andy Coulson.
The Leveson Inquiry questions which Rupert Murdoch answers in his written statement probe on whether RM tried to get special treatment or favours over Mediaset, 2006 European Commission football rights from Tony Blair. Whether he tried to get agreements to media laws out of the Tories before 2010. Again and again, in the written statement as in the oral testimony, RM repeats that he never sought favours and was not given them. He says he spoke to Romano Prodi himself, “didn’t need Mr Blair to call him” and didn’t ask Tony Blair to phone Romano Prodi up. The Inquiry QC keeps trying to tempt him down the same avenue, surely it’s all a bit subtler than that. Rupert Murdoch said he wasn’t subtle. At one point in the written statement RM says that he has no recollection of lobbying the government over the BBC licence fee nor any recollection of anyone asking to do so in his name.
Rupert Murdoch admitted he had pulled Chris Patten’s book on Hong Kong from the Harper Collins list but when asked if that was to protect or promote business interests in China said: “No … it’s just too difficult (to do business there).”
All in all though, it was the documents put on-line that fired up yesterday’s session and triggered the furore around Jeremy Hunt’s position. Today looks like being different. The documents Rupert Murdoch refers to in his written statement don’t look like they are seismic. The action, for now, is back in Westminster, even if the anthropological interest is at the high court.
Follow Gary’s blogs via Twitter: @GaryGibbonBlog