14 Jun 2012

LIVE BLOG: David Cameron at the Leveson inquiry

David Cameron gives evidence to the Leveson inquiry into media standards about his alleged “closeness” to members of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. Add your voice.

15.56 The inquiry adjourns for the week. “We’re not having a holiday,” says Lord Leveson, we need time to consider the evidence we have heard this week from four prime ministers. The onus on getting it right is rather high.

15.54 Cameron makes a quip about his own experience of negative press coverage over revelations he left his daughter in a pub. Some of the responses from fellow MPs had a positive effect he said.
“It made me better understand some of my colleagues,” says the PM.

15.52 Inquiry looking to wind up for the day.

15.51 Cameron: I have a slightly different view to Michael Gove who thinks the inquiry could have a “chilling” effect on the press.

15.38 Cameron: You have to have regulation for impartiality for television because of its power. Newspapers are different.

15.35 Do you have any comments on the culture and ethics of the press? asks Mr Jay.

15.18 The inquiry takes a short break.

15.14 The BBC can be quite an aggressive lobbyist when it comes to licence fee renewal says Mr Cameron, and we must see that sort of thing is handled properly.

15.10 Lord Leveson hints at a phrase of Cameron’s former adviser Steve Hilton when he makes his “blue sky thought” about how SPADs should be monitored.

15.10 Perhaps the party from which they came should provide more support, or check on their work.

15.07 Lord Leveson on SPADs: There is a concern that these often young, inexperienced, committed people do not have the same monitoring as their permanent colleagues in the civil service.

15.03 PM: We’ve made some steps forward on the question of special advisers (SPADs) in terms of reminding them they are working for the whole government and not just one minister.
“But have there been any changes in rules over SPADs when they come into contact with “quasi judicial procedures” asks Robert Jay? “Yes” says Cameron.

15.02 PM: Ministerial Code needs to make mention of “quasi judicial procedures” such as government’s judgement on takeover bids and similar decisions. Mr Cameron says officials have already written to departments to remind them of the provisions of the code.

15.00 PM: I think there’s a set of things we can do when regulatory issues have been raised.

14.59 PM: We need to get right the regulatory structure – the current self-regulation structure has not delivered.

14.58 Cameron: Because of all of the issues the phone hacking scandal has raised, some of the distances and better processes by the media have been put in place.

14.57 Robert Jay now moves on to “any lessons to be learned from politicians”

14.50 It was not some rushed, botched, political decision to remove the BSkyB bid from Vince Cable’s ministerial responsibilities, says PM.

14.46 My memory is that I asked the cabinet secretary’s view on the decision and he took legal advice, says Cameron.

14.44 Inquiry Counsel Robert Jay suggests Mr Cameron was pushed by the 24-hour news cycle to making a decision which in earlier times may have been made with more reflection.

14.43 Robert Jay suggests the decision to remove the bid from the business secretary’s portfolio was made “in haste”. We took two hours in discussing the issue, says Mr Cameron, I don’t think it was particularly rushed. We had to think about our reputation for making decisions decisively.

14.41 Mr Cameron talks about the day he heard about the comments Vince Cable had made to the Telegraph about Rupert Murdoch. Mr Cameron says the suggestion to remove the BSkyB bid from Dr Cable’s portfolio was made by a civil servant.

14.39 Was there a conversation about BSkyB on Boxing Day with the Brooks. “I’m not entirely sure there was much of a conversation at all,” says Mr Cameron.

14.35 Sorry, I’m banging on, apologises the PM

14.32 It became literally impossible to put Vince Cable in the position of adjudicating on this bid due to his comments reported by the Telegraph says David Cameron.

14.29 “Do you think you may not remember Mr Hunt’s note of November 2010 beause it said nothing remarkable, that it said he was supportive of the [BSkyB takeover] bid?” asks Robert Jay.

14.23 Mr Cameron’s evidence says he does not recall discussing the takeover with Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. The PM says there may have been notes sent to him but he does not recall specific conversations.

14.21 Robert Jay now asking Mr Cameron whether he was in favour of News Corp’s bid to take over BSkyB.

14.19 David Cameron questions why the Press Complaints Commission and police among others who investigated allegations of phone hacking did not uncover serious wrongdoing.

14.15 Cameron: I had a number of conversations with Andy Coulson about his impending resignation.

13.00 The Leveson inquiry takes a lunchtime break. Proceedings resume at 2pm.

12.53 Lord Leveson asks whether it was a concern for David Cameron that Andy Coulson had devised the “hug a hoodie” headline, which the prime minister claims was a misrepresentation of what he had actually said. “It was frustrating that he’d come up with this headline which linked three words that I hadn’t used,” the prime minister concedes.

12.50 “The most important thing was: is this person going to be good at managing the press and communications for the Conservative Party?”

12.44 Mr Cameron acknowledges that he knew Andy Coulson’s appointment was controversial, because he had resigned earlier in 2007 over phone-hacking at News of the World and because Mr Coulson had been a tabloid editor.

“He did the job very effectively. There weren’t any complaints about how he conducted himself,” he says about Andy Coulson’s time at No.10. “He did his job very well.”

“Say it in anger, say it in drink, never ever say it in ink.” A text may not be ink, but how David Cameron must be wishing Rebekah Brooks has stuck to the above, writes Channel 4 News Output Editor Ben Monro-Davies.

The following text is a headline wirter’s fantasy: “But seriously I do understand the issue with the Times. Let’s discuss over country supper soon. On the party it was because I had asked a number of NI [News International] people to Manchester post endorsement and they were disappointed not to see you. But as always Sam was wonderful (and I thought it was OE’s [Old Etonians] were charm personfied!) I am so rooting for you tomorrow not just as a proud friend but because professionally we’re definitely in this together! Speech of your life? Yes he Cam.”

Where to start? First there’s the hint of disapproval re his conduct over the Times – believed to be about this article. Then there’s “country supper” followed by a reference to Cameron’s school. And then a message of support that must be exhibit A in support of David Cameron’s assertion: the press and politicians got too close.

12.36 Mr Cameron denies that he “sought a reference” for Andy Coulson from Rebekah Brooks before Mr Coulson’s appointment. He is at pains to stress that the appointment was “my decision”.

“The most important thing I’d have want to know was: is he good for the job?”

“You have to have a relationship of trust” with your media chief, the prime minister explains.

12.32 Guto Hari, a senior broadsheet editor, a tabloid journalist, and a senior member of staff at the BBC were also under consideration for the communications chief job, the prime minister says.

12.31 Mr Cameron admits that there were “two or three others” that were under consideration to fill the job that was eventually taken by Andy Coulson. But at the time of Mr Coulson’s appointment, he was the only available tabloid editor.

12.30 “Alastair Campbell (Tony Blair’s head of communications at No.10) was much more political than Andy Coulson,” asserts the prime minister.

12.28 The inquiry turns to the 2007 appointment of Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor, as the Conservative Party’s head of communications. “You need someone serious good” at handling the deluge of issues that need to be addressed, Mr Cameron says.

12.14 David Cameron dismisses as “absolute nonsense from start to finish” Gordon Brown’s claim to the Leveson inquiry earlier this week that he agreed to neuter Ofcom and trim back the BBC in exchange for News International supporting the Conservatives.

“There was no overt deal for support, there was no covert deal, there were no nods and winks,” the prime minister asserts.

12.13 David Cameron says he was not aware of being under any pressure from Rebekah Brooks to initiate a review into the Madeleine McCann case. “I don’t remember any specific pressure being put on me.”

12.09 On the issue of Madeleine McCann, Mr Cameron concedes that the government has helped the police in efforts to keep the investigation going into her disappearance.

12.06 Robert Jay turns to a text message sent by Ms Brooks to Mr Cameron on 7 October 2009. “..But seriously I do understand the issue with the Times let’s discuss over country supper soon… But as always, Sam was wonderful… I am so rooting for you tomorrow, not just as a personal friend but because professionally we’re definitely in this together. Speech of your life? Yes, he can!”

12.04 Asked about the extent of his contacts with Rebekah Brooks around 2008-9, Mr Cameron says it’s difficult to say because he does not have a record. “Sometimes I expect we would have been talking to each other quite a bit.”

“Once she started going out with Charlie Brooks… I was definitely seeing her more often… Charlie and I play tennis together and all sorts of other things, which I’m sure we’ll come on to!”

12.03 As leader of the opposition, Mr Cameron’s sense was that he was talking by phone to Rebekah Brooks a lot less than the then prime minister, Gordon Brown.

12.01 Discussing Matthew Freud, Elizabeth Murdoch’s husband, the prime minister says he is “not quite sure” about the PR guru’s politics.

On his relationship with Rebekah Brooks, Mr Cameron admits that they were friends by 2008 – a friendship that was cemented by her marriage to Charlie Brooks, who Mr Cameron had known for some time (they were contemporaries at Eton) and who was a neighbour.

11.57 Mr Cameron says that yes, “of course” Andy Coulson gave him advice as to how to proceed in regard to relations with the Sun.

11.56 On his relationship with Rebekah Brooks, Mr Cameron acknowledges that his party had its work cut out to win the Sun’s support because of her friendship with Gordon Brown’s family.

11.54 Mr Cameron agrees with Robert Jay QC that the Sun newspaper is not of “massive” importance to politicians but is of “some” importance. “We developed a strategy of how to explain the values and the policies and the approaches we believed in… When you’re talking to the Sun, you want to talk about the parts of the policies that will particularly appeal to Sun readers.”

“When you’re talking to the FT you’re talking about Basel 3, when you’re talking to the Sun you’re going to be talking about the policies that appeal to their readers.”

11.48 Mr Cameron recalls meeting former News International PR boss Frederic Michel – whose frequent communications with Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt have emerged at the Leveson inquiry – at Davos and at News International parties.

11.46 “In most of my lunches… with Rupert Murdoch, the conversation has always been about economic issues, security and geopolitical issues… In my dealings with Rupert Murdoch, most of the conversation has been about really big political issues.

11.43 On 21 September there was dinner between David Cameron, James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks. Mr Cameron says he doesn’t “particularly recall” what was discussed on that occasion, but he concedes that the Sun’s upcoming support for the Conservatives was likely to have been discussed. “I remember the drink, I remember what he said about the Sun supporting the Conservatives, I don’t particularly remember the dinner.

11.42 “On things like the BBC, we have a very clear position… that the BBC is the cornerstone of British broadcasting.”

11.41 The prime minister says he has no recollection of discussing the BBC and Ofcom, the media regulator, during this conversation. He notes that James Murdoch has “lots of enthusiasms” – including a belief that the UK should have “six aircraft carriers”.

11.39 Mr Cameron recalls being informed by James Murdoch at a meeting in September 2009 that the Sun would support the Conservative Party. “I think we had a conversation about other policy issues at the time.” The prime minister also “seems to remember” that he was told the Sun would come out in support of the Tories at around the time of the Labour Party conference of that year.

11.37 In September 2009 Mr Cameron had lunch with Dominic Mohan, editor of the Sun. Again, Mr Cameron says he does not recall whether or not the issue of the Sun’s support for the Conservative Party was discussed.

11.35 In May 2009 Mr Cameron had lunch with James Murdoch. Mr Cameron says he does not recall whether or not regulatory issues were discussed at that lunch, although he concedes has has probably discussed such things with Mr Murdoch, since he has very strong views on media regulation.

Cameron so far has looked comfortable and steered away from any fixed position, writes Channel 4 News Output Editor Ben Monro-Davies.

On ownership he thinks it’s a difficult area; too much logging of contacts could be very bureaucratic. His firmest position has been the importance of people like us – ie television news. The TV bulletins are, he says, more important than ever.

This may be true, although TV bulletins audiences are in a degree of decline too. But where it looks a little wobbly is when we come to his face to face contacts with the press. We will get a breakdown soon, but so far he appears to have spent far more time chewing the fat with newspaper folk than my colleagues from telly. If TV was so important why weren’t TV political editors spending time with him at the Santorini. And also, why did he appoint a newspaper man, Andy Coulson, as his comms boss.

Critics will argue his fixation with TV news is a smokescreen for his proximity to news international bigwigs.

11.20 A short break in the inquiry proceedings.

11.17 16 August 2008 – dinner with Elizabeth Murdoch, Rebekah Wade and Matthew Freud. David Cameron says he thinks Rupert Murdoch was at the same dinner. “My memory is that this was drinks and then a dinner,” he states.

11.16 The prime minister explains the difficulty in drawing up a comprehensive list of all meetings with newspaper editors and proprietors when he was leader of the opposition.

11.13 Mr Cameron says that when he arrived in Downing Street, he felt the set-up was like a 24-hour newsroom.

Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon says: “David Cameron’s not been grilled so far. Not even sauteed. He’s been making robust defences of newspaper campaigns, their right to blur news and comment, a resistance to market share limiting. He’s been speaking very much in generalities.”

11.04 “I’d won the leadership of the Conservative Party (in 2005) without the support of any newspapers,” says the prime minister.

11.01 David Cameron says yes, he has had conversations with newspaper proprietors about political policies. “You have very robust conversations about policy areas where you don’t agree.”

11.00 “One of the things that all ministers are meant to do… is, you sit down with your permanent secretary” and tell him or her about the business interactions of friends that might bump up against government policy.

10.56 Discussing ways of improving media response to politicians, Mr Cameron says there is potential for improvement. If it is obvious there is a meeting where a proprietor has a commercial issue to be realised, then it makes sense that notes are taken.

10.55 Asked by Robert Jay QC if he has a strategy at the start of the year in regard to who he should see, the prime minister replies: “The strategy mapped out at the beginning of the year are the things you want to achieve.” He acknowledges that newspapers that have been supportive of his party in the past are more likely to respond positively than newspapers such as the Daily Mirror.

10.52 Mr Cameron on the sensationalist aspects of the press: “Sometimes it feels as if the volume knob is being turned up unnecessarily.”

10.50 Asked about Gordon Brown’s point that reporting is sensational and hyperbolic, the prime minister admits there are occasions when that can happen. “It links back to that think about newspapers being under pressure to find something special and different.”

10.48 On the subject of personal friendships between politicians and members of the press, Mr Cameron says you have to take care – but they can be managed. “And I think I’ve done that.”

10.45 The prime minister returns to the subject of the growth of the 24-hour news agenda, which has affected the role of newspapers. He concedes that the John Major government had a “wretched” time at the hands of the press. As a result, the pendulum swung the other way under the Blair government.

“There have been various attempts (between 1994 and 2011) to grab hold of the pendulum and do something about it,” says Mr Cameron. “There’s been steps, but clearly… we’re here because of the truly dreadful things that happened, not to politicians, but to ordinary members of the public… This is a cathartic moment where all the relationships that haven’t been right, we have a chance to re-set them.”

10.42 “We can write all the rules that we like… (but) culture is massively important… in every aspect of life.”

10.40 The prime minister explains that the “big, big focus” of politicians since he has been prime minister has been the six o’clock and 10 o’clock news – to a greater extent than the press. But he concedes that the newspapers play a very important role in terms of accountability. “The strength of our democracy would be a lot weaker if we didn’t have both (television and the press).”

Read Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon’s scene-setter for David Cameron’s appearance at the Leveson inquiry: Cameron day at Leveson

Read Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon’s scene-setter for David Cameron’s appearance at the Leveson inquiry: Cameron day at Leveson

10.34 David Cameron argues that his policies are determined by his beliefs, not by what newspapere editors want. “This is a risk. I think you mitigate it through transparency.”

10.31 The prime minister is asked about a possible reference to Rebekah Wade’s evidence to the culture, media and sport select committee in 2003.

10.27 Lord Leveson intervenes, asking the prime minister if he believes the onus is on politicians to say the dynamic between politicians and press needs to change. The prime minister replies by citing the example of the expenses scandal, which was “deeply painful” for politicians. “We need to have the politicians continually called to account by a vigorous press campaign.”

10.25 On the subject of transparency, the prime minister suggests that political power is mitigated by transparency. “But there are other risks… which need effective regulation.” He says he believes the present regulatory system is not working.

10.23 Mr Cameron says the relationship between press and the political class has never been perfect – “But in the last 20 years I think the relationship has not been right… and we need to try and get it on a better footing.”

10.22 “The politicians – and particularly prime ministers and cabinet ministers – have to get out of the 24-hour news cycle… and be prepared to take a hit on stories they don’t respond to so quickly.”

10.18 The prime minister says it is good that campaigns are put forward because they are part of the challenge of the democratic system. “It’s good and right we have that sort of vigorous debate.”

10.17 David Cameron on newspaper and television campaigns: “Some of them are extraordinarily important and powerful… Some of them are very reflective of the readers of that paper.”

10.15 David Cameron: “If you want to explain why you’re doing… television is extaordinarily important and powerful.”

In a week of high-profile political witnesses, David Cameron gives evidence to the Leveson inquiry into media standards about his alleged “closeness” to members of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. Add your voice in the window above or on Twitter @Channel4News.

David Cameron gives evidence to Leveson – add your voice