Morning Hearing on 28 May 2012

Tony Blair gave a statement at this hearing

Hearing Transcript

(10.00 am) MR JAY Sir, the witness today is the Right Honourable Tony Blair, please. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you very much indeed. MR ANTHONY CHARLES LYNTON BLAIR (sworn) Questions by MR JAY MR JAY Your full name, please, Mr Blair.
A. Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.
Q. You've kindly provide us with a witness statement, I haven't seen a signed copy but it doesn't matter. Are you happy to confirm the truth of your statement to the Inquiry?
A. Absolutely.
Q. Can I deal with some general matters first? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Before you do Mr Blair, thank you very much for providing the Inquiry with the assistance that you have. You comment in your statement that you haven't received some papers from the Cabinet Office. Have you yet received them? Are you satisfied you have what you required?
A. Yes, I'm satisfied I have what I require now. This was mainly to do with lists of meetings with various media people and we've got, I think, as full a picture of that as we can get. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you very much.
A. Thank you. MR JAY First page, please, Mr Blair. We're dealing now with general themes. We're working from the pagination which the Inquiry has provided, 05572. You say in the second paragraph: "Disentangling what is inevitable from what is wrong is a profound challenge." We understand in that sentence the adjective "inevitable", but could you elaborate on the "wrong", please?
A. Yes. Look, in the relationship between senior media people and senior politicians, that relationship is inevitably going to involve a close interaction, and I think that has always been the case and it's going to go on being the case. And what is more, that interaction will always involve a certain tension. The politicians want to get the best story they can across, the media have to hold the politicians to account, so there's an inevitable tension in that relationship. But I think if you look back over time, there's nothing wrong and it would be strange, frankly, if senior people in the media and senior politicians didn't have that close interaction. What is more, I'd like to make it clear right at the outset, sir, if I might, that British journalism at its best is the best in the world, the finest in the world. It's emulated everywhere. So what I'm talking about as "wrong" is a relationship or an interaction that moves from being sensible and inevitable to being what I would say is unhealthy, as a result, really, of a situation in which the power that is entered by a certain part of the media and the use of newspapers particularly as instruments of political power then creates a situation in which that relationship is not merely sensible but essential, and where I think that relationship can be, and sometimes is, unhealthy. And that's what I mean by "wrong". So "inevitable" is the close interreaction between senior media people and politicians. I think what I found uncomfortable and unhealthy was when you were so acutely aware of the power that was exercised that you then got into a situation where, frankly, it became not merely sensible and important but essential and crucial to have that interaction.
Q. The attributes then of a healthy, appropriate relationship may be a degree of tension, may be a degree of professional distance, but if that relationship becomes too close, then it may become, to use your word, wrong. Is that a fair summary?
A. Yeah, except that I find sometimes, you know, in reading about this, that the use of the word "close" I am ambivalent about. The use of the word "cosy" I think is not the correct relationship or description of the relationship at all. I think "unhealthy" is a better way of putting it, because what it means is that if you're a political leader and you have very powerful media groups and you fall out with one of those groups, the consequence is such that it really means that you then are effectively blocked from getting across your message. You then have all the things that I outline in my statement that happens as a consequence of that. The nature of the relationship between the politicians and the media and that closeness you describe is really derived from that, so what, in a sense, happens is not necessarily that you become particularly close, but the relationship is one in which you feel this this pretty intense power and the need to try and deal with that. And I'm just being open about that and open about the fact, frankly, that I decided, as a political leader and this was a strategic decision that I was going to manage that and not confront it. We can get onto whether that was right or wrong at a later stage but that was the decision I took. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Right or wrong is an interesting question, but much more important, obviously later on we will get onto how it should be fixed, if it needs fixing.
A. Yes, and I have ideas on that, although I think I'd like also, if I might, at a later stage, to put something actually down in writing. But I found when I was going back and reading the evidence that you've received already, there were things that were occurring to me that shifted my view on certain things, so I'd like to do that in a more considered way. But yes, look, I think as a result of what has happened, this is a debate that is now permissible and you have the potential to get a solution. So let's hope we can get one. But I'm just being open with you. That was my decision. You could have decided and at some points I thought about it, actually, as to whether you took this on as a major strategic challenge of the government. I decided in the end against it, but MR JAY Okay. You say, Mr Blair, that you feel you can now speak with greater frankness, but do you feel you can speak with greater objectivity?
A. I'm probably the worst person to say whether I'm being objective or not, really. I mean, I hope so. Look, I think I mean, what I'm going to try and do is tell you what I think should be done in this situation, but there are obviously people who would strongly dispute my ability to be objective over it.
Q. In the fourth paragraph on 05572, you say that your argument would be that the unhealthy nature of this relationship is not the product of an individual but of a culture. It's the draining of a poison from the culture that's the real challenge. That's on the first page.
A. Yeah.
Q. Are we clear that you are locating the poison within the culture of the press?
A. Yeah, in this as I say, what I would say is in certain parts of the media, where the line between news and commentary gets blurred so those papers who take a particular view on a policy, a party or a person, then that is driven with an aggression and, frankly, a prejudice that means you cross the line, I think. Now, that's what I think is the problem, and that's why, if you like, political leaders like myself have to be in a position where you're managing these major forces within the media because if you fail to manage it and you fall out with them, the consequences, you know, as I will say a bit later, are harsh, let us say.
Q. Is it not necessary, though, at least to recognise that part of the responsibility for the current state of affairs is the development within our political culture of a degree of cynicism and, some would say, a disposition to be malleable with the truth, the consequences of which have been toxic?
A. I would say our responsibility primarily is not having confronted this issue. Now, I will give my reasons for that, my justification for it. I actually do not think that the way this particular part of the media behaves is a response to the way the government has behaved, and what I would say I would actually put that around the other way and say, for example, the fact that we got a fully professional media operation operating really properly, I think, for the first time in the Labour Party's history, was a necessary part of being able to deal with a media that was extremely powerful.
Q. One can see that in this situation it is virtually impossible to disentanglable cause from effect. If you accept the premise, please, for the purpose of argument, at least in relation to the Labour Party, that it had a terrible time in the 1980s, certainly up to 1992 and that election, and that your strategy may have been a reaction to that, but even on that analysis, that reaction created a political culture with, as I've said, a degree of cynicism and if you don't like the term "a disposition to be malleable with the truth", we can turn it down a bit and say "put the best possible gloss on the truth that one can "
A. Yes, this is where I think it's almost impossible now, even now, to dispute this issue to do with, let's say, spin, so-called spin, from the last Labour government. I cannot believe we are the first and only government that has ever wanted to put the best possible gloss on what you're doing. I would be surprised if governments hadn't done that throughout the ages. That is a completely different thing from saying that you go out to say things that are deliberately untrue or you bully and you harass journalists and so on. I read a lot of things we are supposed to have done. I actually dispute we did those things, very, very strongly. My view is this: I totally understand why there's a kind of symmetry in being able to say, "Oh, well, the government was spinning and so the media had to react to that." In my view but you can take a different one that's not what happened. I mean, the truth is, in 1992, Alastair Campbell wasn't heard of. If you look at the way that election was covered and by the time I took over the leadership of the Labour Party, we'd lost four elections in a row. We'd actually never won two consecutive full elections in our history. The longest we'd ever been in power was six years at one go. So I went through that 1992 election. I remember it. It was etched on my memory, and yes, I was absolutely determined that we should not be subject to the same onslaught.
Q. We'll come back to that issue. Your "feral beast" speech, Mr Blair, which is 12 June 2007, which I think was a few days before your departure from office. We have it in tab 49 of the bundle we've prepared, I think in the second file.
A. I think I remember it pretty well, actually. I probably don't need to refer
Q. A number of points you make here would be obviously as valid now as they were five years ago. On the numbering at the top of the page in this version it's page 2 of 5 on the Internet printout. At the top, you say your principal reflection is not about blaming anyone. In the third paragraph, you say: "We paid inordinate attention in the early days of New Labour to courting, assuaging and persuading the media." So you're careful to use the word "courting", we can see that.
A. (Nods head)
Q. Then you say: "In our own defence [it's a point you've just made to us], after 18 years of opposition and at times ferocious hostility from parts of the media, it was hard to see any alternative but such an attitude ran the risk of fuelling the trends in communications that I'm about to question." So arguably you're accepting there, without attributing cause and effect, to at least contributing to the overall cultural problem, are you not?
A. Yes, I am, and, you know, I chose my words pretty carefully there actually about running the risk. To be honest, I don't actually think that we created this phenomenon. I think we were trying to respond to it. What I do think, you know, to be self-critical about the government in its first stages we'd, as I say, been out of power for 18 years. We got into a rhythm which is very much the rhythm of opposition. So we were still, as it were, campaigning, you know, in the first few months, possibly the first year of government, but frankly, after that time, you got into a proper rhythm of government and we had a very strong media operation, it's true, but I would argue then in fact, I would argue now you've really got to and I think that's I mean, that's not as a result of anything the media's doing. The fact is today you have a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week media, you have social media as well as the conventional media. I mean, I remember my first election campaign in 1997. You could more or less say, "Right, here's the story of the day." By the time I was fighting my third election campaign, there was a different story in the morning, the noon, in the evening. Watching the most recent election complain here, I'd say the pace was even faster. So there's a quite different rhythm to this today that I think personally, my advice to any political leader today would be: you have to have a very, very solid media operation. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON One of the things Mr Campbell said was that the problem may be, at least in part, the consequence of pursuing in government the same approach to the media as had been necessary in opposition. It may not be now to discuss it but I mention it because you were just talking about that period of transition. The question then arises whether there doesn't have to be a different approach that works not merely for government but also for those who aspire to government, because it's very difficult or may be difficult to adjust the tempo of how you do the business.
A. Yes, I think that's a fair point. I would distinguish, however, between, as it were, how you do your proper media operation and relations and communication and so on and this issue to do with the importance of those key media relationships in circumstances where you are aware of the fact that, you know, support the difference between support and lack of support is so profound in terms of the effect on politics, because that's you know, from the political leader's point of view, that's the thing that you are aware of. So if you've this is not true of all parts of the media, by the way, or all parts of all media groups. There are some papers that, you know, you could fall out with the editor and the proprietor and you'd still get a perfectly fair run of things in the news items. You might have bad editorials, you might have bad comments, but you wouldn't have a problem with the news part of it. But those parts and they tend to be very powerful where, when you fall out with them, you then get a problem in the whole of the paper, the news as well as the comment, that's when, frankly, those relationships, as I say, move from being sensible to being crucial in a way that's probably not healthy. MR JAY Another general point you make in this speech, Mr Blair, page 3 of 5, the third and fourth paragraphs, where you deal with the sheer scale, weight and constant hyperactivity of coping with the media, and then you say: "At points, it literally overwhelms. Talk to senior people in virtually any walk of life today [and then you list the categories] People don't speak out about it because in the main they're afraid to." Which chimes with what Lord Mandelson said on 11 July 2011: "We were cowed." Is it as high as that?
A. I think you certainly do fear the power being directed at you. The way I will put this, though, is as follows and I studied carefully what Peter said about this, and it comes to this question of priority. My view was this: I, as I say, took a strategic decision that this was not an issue that I was going to take on. Now, the way priority comes into this is as follows: I was trying to do all the things I believed in for the country, for the Labour Party and so on. So, as I say, we'd never won two full terms before. I wanted us to become a party of government, able to compete on equal terms. When I came to office, we had health service waiting lists of 18 months, we had only a handful of inner city schools with decent results, we had rising crime. There were all sorts of things we managed to do in government bringing those waiting lists down, increasing the number of schools and so on, with good results, and all of that is very positive. We had the minimum wage, civil partnerships, Human Rights Act you know, there was a whole set of things we wanted to do. My view, rightly or wrongly, was that if, in those circumstances, I had said, "Right, I've decided what I'm going to do is take on the media and change the law in relation to the media", my view is and I think it's still my view, actually that you would have had to have clear the decks. This would have been an absolute major confrontation. You would have had virtually every part of the media against you in doing it, and I felt the price you would pay for that would actually push out a lot of the things I cared more about, and although, you know I think I say towards the end of my statement: although I think this is an immensely important question, I mean, I don't, in the end not for me at any rate, as the Prime Minister, was it more important than the health service or schools or law and order. Now, did I come towards the end of my timed thinking it was more important? Yes, I did. At that point, frankly, it would have been absolutely impossible for me to have taken it on. So the way I would put this is it's not so much I did a lot of things in government that were both unpopular and where I had to have a certain courage in standing up to people, whether you agree with those decisions or not. It's not that, as it were, I was afraid of taking them on, in that sense, but I knew that if I did, you have to be very, very clear about this, and that was the debate I had with Alastair and others within government all the way through. If you take this on, do not think for a single moment you are not in a long, protracted battle that will shove everything else to one side whilst it's going on.
Q. You make those points very clear in your statement, particularly paragraph 36, but allied to the point in paragraph 11, you say: "We should be aware that some of the media profoundly disagree that there's a real problem." Do you believe that that's still the case even now, Mr Blair?
A. Yes.
Q. Are you identifying a section of media it may be invidious, perhaps, to start naming papers, unless you wish to, but we're confined to a section, are we?
A. Yes, I think we're confined to a section. Look, this is the point. This is why it's very difficult to discuss these issues without, you know, people misunderstanding what you're saying, but I'm not making a token statement when I say British journalism at its best is as good as it is in the world, and I see a lot more of journalism around the world today, you know, and govern(?) more, seen more and so on. I think at their best, the best British newspapers and journalists are as good as anything there is globally. But I think there is a genre that's what I'm saying of writing that has gone into parts of the media where, because this line between news and comment gets blurred, you know, it stops being journalism. It becomes then an instrument of political power or propaganda.
Q. Back to "feral beasts". On page 4 of 5, you make a series of points which you pick up in your witness statement in various ways. The reference to "feral beasts" itself is in the fourth paragraph. You say: "In these modes, it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits."
A. Yes.
Q. I wanted to ask you more specifically about page 5 of 5 and the sixth paragraph down where you deal, with the issue of accountability. "In the absence of an objective yardstick I'll come to that in a moment. Then you say: "In every other walk of life in our society that exercise power, there are external forms of accountability, not least through the media itself." Which comes back really to a recurring theme which we've heard in this Inquiry. The external form of accountability, what were you thinking of there in terms of either its absence at this time and what would be desirable in terms of any appropriate form?
A. What I mean is, what most people feel is if you have a complaint, other than the laws of libel, there's not really a place you can go to in order to complain and get redress, and most people, I think, would say the PCC just does not or hasn't operated in a way that provides that accountability. Look, of course newspapers are, to an extent, accountable through, you know, their readers choosing whether to buy the paper or not. But I mean that's like saying, you know, politicians are accountable because every four or five years you go to the election. The truth is you need a process of accountability that is continuing, and which people and which then influences the culture in which you behave.
Q. We will, of course, come to that. You were criticised in relation to this speech in a number of ways, but one of them was picking on the Independent newspaper. I think Mr Paxman said that you attacked the poodle and not the Alsatian. You'll remember that in his MacTaggart lecture.
A. I do.
Q. That was a bit harsh, wasn't it? Not of Mr Paxman, but your criticism here.
A. I know what he means, by the way. The reason I just to explain, the reason I used the Independent as the example was because the Independent was begun as a newspaper that was supposed to be absolutely against this blurring of news and views, and the reason I use that is I think the then editor of the Independent had just given an interview in which he said, "We are a viewspaper, not a newspaper", and so I was demonstrating that that is, as it were, indicative of how this culture has changed. But the point that I could have talked about the Mail, the Sun, et cetera is perfectly reasonable. I think what's interesting though about Jeremy Paxman I hadn't actually read the speech until you kindly sent it to me as part of the bundle is even Jeremy, who I think in this issue is one of those people that is really prepared to think these issues through, had to make, in the course of his speech a reference to the inequities to the government, indeed myself, and it's just interesting that two of the examples he gives are just wrong. But it's how these things become absolutely fixated. One was that I didn't bother with Parliament. The truth is, as an ordinary Member of Parliament, I didn't vote a great deal because we had a huge majority, but in terms of my accountability as Prime Minister, which is really measured by the number of times you go to Parliament and answer questions, I actually made more statements, answered more statements than either of my two predecessors in the proportionate period of time, and I was actually the first prime minister to go to Select Committees. So it was just an example of where something that actually is wrong becomes a fact and even someone like him feels obliged to repeat it, even though actually, on analysis, it's wrong. But anyway, that's probably more information than you need.
Q. Some of the reaction to your speech was
A. Predictable.
Q. not exactly muted. Can we alight on some of them. The Daily Telegraph wrote on 13 June 2007, under tab 50 you're described as a religiose figure. In reference to the point that news and comment has become blurred, they say: "As a result, he envisages a statutory body, such as Ofcom, dealing with the press too, dispensing, they say, with the gentlemen's agreements of the Press Complaints Commission." It's interesting that they use the term "gentlemen's agreements", but are you envisaging a statutory body such as Ofcom?
A. I think Ofcom probably is the right body to decide issues of media policy. I don't actually envisage it replacing the PCC. I don't think I actually said that in my speech either, by the way.
Q. No, I think it's an inference they're drawing rather than something you stated expressly. You're absolutely right about that. Then subsequently they say on statutory control, they say: "This is specious. In the eyes of the public, the two are quite distinct. He ignores the point that if people don't like a particular newspaper, they needn't buy it. He cannot be so naive as to imagine that putting newspapers under statutory regulation will do anything other than make them eventually obedient to the government of the day." Do you accept that charge of naivety or not?
A. I think in the speech I never actually went so far as to propose that but, no, I think look, the notion that it's impossible to find a space between no proper system of accountability and the press becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the government of the day, I just think that is an assertion that is, frankly, ludicrous.
Q. The Daily Mail, or rather MailOnline it may or may not have been the Daily Mail 13 June 2007. The headline is "The magnificent self-delusion of Mr Blair". To cut a long story short, they characterised the media as behaving like a great sloppy labrador which repeatedly bestowed its affections on you, rather than a feral beast.
A. It's a description of the Daily Mail that I don't totally recognise, I have to say. Yeah, interesting, that one. I haven't come across that before. But I'm the one with self-delusion, am I?
Q. Right. Arguably, there's a more cerebral contribution from the Guardian.
A. Right.
Q. It's the leader of 13 June 2007, which still is under tab 50 in this bundle. They say there's an easy response I'm paraphrasing: "It is to accuse the Prime Minister, the master, some will say, of half-truth, evasions and spin, of breathtaking " LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's actually the Financial Times, I think. MR JAY The one I'm looking at LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Tab 50? MR JAY That's the last page. Before that, sir, there's the Guardian, the leader of 13 June. Do you have that one? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I have it. Right sermon, wrong preacher; is that it? MR JAY That's the one. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm only reading the headline. MR JAY Again, they're picking up the religiose bit when they refer to a homily, but we'll pass over that.
A. I never actually mentioned religion in the course of my speech on the media, but anyway.
Q. They do say in the second paragraph, five lines down: "He [that's you] is right to highlight some of the worst qualities of some British journalism: a seam of sourness and aggression, a bullying, puffed-up self-regard, a casualness about the borders between public and private, an obsession with impact over proportionality. All those are there on a daily basis for anyone to see." That's not exactly how you put it in the speech, but would you associate yourself with those observations or not?
A. Pretty much, yeah.
Q. Then they say in the next paragraph: "The BBC is still the best
A. Sorry, are you on the Guardian, are you?
Q. I'm still on the Guardian, Mr Blair.
A. Yes.
Q. They say in the next paragraph: "The BBC is still the best journalistic organisation in the world." Then a little bit later on: "There's something about the polemical, argumentative, obstinate traditions of the British national press which grinds out a form of truth every bit as effectively as the supposedly more objective newspapers found in mainland Europe and North America." Again I suppose that sentiment you would agree with as well, would you?
A. Yeah, absolutely. In fact, better than most of the papers in mainland Europe.
Q. Their real point is about the messenger, which again we'll come to later. We've already touched on it. The Financial Times piece, again on 13 June. Again, it's the point it's the wrong messenger. I suppose it's difficult for you to comment on that.
A. No, except that it would underline my point that for me to have taken this issue on would have been extremely difficult. I mean, you can see this was a speech made shortly before I left office. You can imagine the reaction if I'd made the speech sort of two years into being Prime Minister.
Q. Let me move on to a slightly different topic, although probably still related. Paragraph 14 of your statement, Mr Blair, 05576.
A. Yes.
Q. You fairly make the point and others have made the same point: "It could be very hard to adopt a policy when it was likely to be the subject of an intense media campaign against it." Can we explore the issue of democratic accountability? If the media are right and they do represent at least a majority of their readers' voices or views, why is there a problem here at all?
A. There is absolutely no problem in the press being partisan for particular parties or particular political view points. That's been part of our journalism for years and years and years and that's perfectly acceptable. So there's absolutely no reason why they shouldn't, for example, choose to run certain stories because it accords with their political position. My distinction is between that and how you actually report the story as a piece of journalism. So if you take the issue to do with Europe, what I would say is that those papers who are Eurosceptic are perfectly entitled to be Eurosceptic. They're perfectly entitled to highlight things in Europe that are wrong. What they shouldn't do is, frankly, make up a whole lot of nonsense about Europe and dish that up to the readers, because that's I mean, how does the reader know that's not correct? So, you know, now towards the end, particularly, frankly, I just I remember when I had a huge battle over the European Union or the British rebate, which was a sort of hallowed thing, and when I had the presidency of the European Union in 2005 and we had to do the new budget deal and so on I mean, the misdescriptions of what I was proposing and what, you know, Europe was proposing because actually, for the first time under these proposals, Britain was going to be paying roughly the same as France, when, for decades, we hadn't you know, that, in my view look, I didn't expect anything else in this issue, but it wasn't straight reporting. That doesn't mean to say if they find something out that supports their case that it's all monstrous of course, they're perfectly entitled to choose to run anti-European stories rather than pro-European stories. So to be very careful with what I'm suggesting, I'm not suggesting they shouldn't be partisan and I'm not suggesting that they shouldn't, even within that, be perfectly entitled to choose that I'm going to highlight this aspect of Europe because it supports my case, even though there's a certain imbalance in, say, not choosing one thing and another thing and so on. That's fine. In my view, where this becomes very difficult on policy issues is where you know that the actual facts within the story will get slanted in a particular way. Then it becomes a lot tougher to deal with because you're having to you know, you can go out there and say it's not correct, but
Q. Is this right, Mr Blair: you're not arguing necessarily for balance, as such, but you're arguing for two things: firstly, that fact and opinion are significant great, and secondly, at least the facts are accurately, objectively stated. Is that a correct analysis?
A. Absolutely, and I would say that is just a matter of good journalism. That's what the journalism is, as opposed to the person who writes the column of comment that says, "I think this is all a terrible plot against the British state." Fine. That's the comment piece, but the news piece should at least be, within itself, accurate, even if you've chosen to do that news piece because it supports your point of view. I think there is a clear distinction between those two things.
Q. The examples you give in the last sentence of paragraph 14 are all quite, if I can put it in these terms, visceral issues. Just take one of them. Take gay rights as an example. How do you separate out fact from opinion on that issue?
A. Well, I think it's it can be difficult to do that in that issue, I agree. On the other hand, I think there is a tone in which you can write and have that debate. Now, frankly, on this issue things have changed a huge amount in the 20 or 30 years I was in politics. So in the 1980s, you had a pretty prejudiced way of writing about gay issues and gay rights and so on, later less so. But all I'm saying is that an issue like that, you know, in the tone of your coverage, I think that is also an issue, and I would say certainly the 1980s when that was being debated, it was you know, you were basically a sort of you know if you supported gay rights, you weren't so much as supporting gay rights; you were proselytising for people being gay. You know, I think
Q. But on that issue, some would say the tone has shifted because the zeitgeist has shifted.
A. Yes.
Q. In relation to Europe, it may not be possible to make that observation, might it?
A. Well, not as yet, but let me be absolutely clear about this. I'm pro-European, but I totally understand the Eurosceptic case and the papers are perfectly entitled to be Eurosceptic and put that case very strongly to their readers. It's simply that, you know I think someone did this in the course of his evidence and I haven't done this myself when you tabulate all the various things that have been said about Europe that aren't actually correct, that bit of it should be correct. So if you disagree with Europe, you disagree with it, but on the facts. I think that is a distinction that you know, I think it's pretty obvious to most people. And by the way, I think that's if you put that to the readers, they'd say, "Well, of course." They wouldn't say, "It's impossible. I think it's right that they tell me something that isn't correct."
Q. Is there any newspaper which meets your blueprint for appropriate behaviour on the European issue?
A. Well, I think if you took, for example, the Times newspaper, which is basically Eurosceptic but I think it reports Europe fairly. That's not to say if they come across a story that sort of, as it were, fuels your receptors, they won't publish it, but why not? They're perfectly entitled to. But you know, I think they're a paper that will basically try to report it fairly.
Q. Okay. Can I come back to a point which you open with. Paragraph 4(d) of your statement, our page 05573. You say: "Most important of all, certain of the newspapers are used by their owners or editors as instruments of political power Then you say: in which the boundary between news and comment is deliberately blurred." Then in paragraph 7, you're careful there not to identify which newspapers are, as it were, guilty of these characteristics and which are not, and it may be you would not wish to do so now, but some people would differ quite markedly as to which newspaper falls into which category. Will you accept at least that?
A. Up to a point, actually. I think, you know, their whether you agree with their position or not is another matter. The heart of my argument to you is really this: that the problem that you have as a political leader is that where, with certain parts of the media, the press becomes not merely politically partisan in their comment or editorial line but in their news coverage, then it becomes all the more important and that's why I use the word "crucial" that you try and prevent yourself becoming an object of that attack, and that is what is gives rise to the this closeness, and as I say to you, also in paragraph 8, emphatically, this is not confined to the Murdoch media. I'm not saying the Murdoch newspapers, the tabloid ones, did not have that characteristic they do but they're not the only ones by any means at all. So I would say probably the I think you'd say the bulk of what we call the tabloid press basically writes in a way that if they're against a particular policy, party or person, it's a pretty all-out affair.
Q. Certainly the position is stated with crystalline and direct clarity in every conceivable instance, one might say?
A. Yeah.
Q. Can I ask you to comment on the Sun, which many have looked at as a sort of paradigm. Do you agree that it generates a special power or influence because of its appearance of being a form of floating voter with a constituency of circulation 3 million or readers 8 million?
A. Yeah. I mean, the Sun and the Mail, frankly, are the two most powerful of the papers, and the Sun, partly because it is prepared to shift, it makes it all the more important. I don't think there's anything wrong with that per se, by the way, just as I don't think there's anything wrong with the Daily Mail being against my government or against me. It's you know, as I say, I think it's where I put the line is in the: once they're against you, that's it. It's full on, full frontal, day in, day out. Basically a lifetime commitment.
Q. Just on the floating voter point, do you feel that that has been the result of some sort of deliberate strategy or is it just the accidental by-product of events?
A. I think it's difficult to work out that, actually. I think it's partly because Rupert Murdoch himself, I think, is not actually a sort of identikit right wing person. In other words, I would never describe him as a sort of I'm indicating my own political prejudices here but as a sort of tribal Tory. I wouldn't say that at all. You know, he has bits of him that are very anti-establishment, sort of meritocratic, I would say. So maybe it's partly derived from his own thinking. Is there an element of political calculation? I don't know. I suppose there could be.
Q. You say in paragraph 9 "the wrong paradigm". This is to confuse political objectives with commercial interests.
A. Yeah.
Q. Isn't it possible to argue that although the primary purpose on this approach would be the exercise of political power, the secondary purpose may well be to advance the interests of the paper, including its commercial interests?
A. Yeah look, I think what I'm really saying here is of course, like any commercial organisation, they'll have their commercial interests there, but I also point out in my statement and I will say this very strongly when we get on to the detail of this actually, we decided more stuff against the Murdoch interests than we did in favour of it. Now, did that mean that they changed their support for me? No, it didn't, as a matter of fact, even though we did some things they really didn't like. On the other hand, of course, all of these I mean, look, all of these organisations have their commercial interests and their commercial interests are important. I actually didn't personally I can't speak for others I didn't feel under pressure in relation to commercial interests from the Murdoch people, or indeed anyone else. The pressure for me was more political but that's maybe because the issues didn't arise in a particular way. I don't know.
Q. You mention the Daily Mail and the Associated titles. The influence they exercise not through appearing to be a floating voter because that's not the way they operate. Therefore, how do they, in your view, exercise their power and influence?
A. Look, the Daily Mail, frankly, is a subject on which I wouldn't claim to exercise much objectivity. The fact is, if you fall out with the controlling element of the Daily Mail, that is you are then going to be subject to a huge and sustained attack. The Daily Mail, for me they've attacked me, my family, my children, those people associated with me, day in, day out, not merely when I was in office but subsequent to it as well. So that is and they do it very well, very effectively, and it's very powerful. You know, I did a I just asked my office to do a random analysis of 50 stories straight after the 2005 election when, after all, I'd been re-elected for the third time, and 50 stories just prior to leaving office, just the 50 stories that you take on either side of that. So if you have a positive, neutral, negative columns: in the positive, zero, in the neutral, zero, in the negative, 100. Maybe I did nothing right during that period, but, you know, I think look, I don't think there's much doubt about where they stand. So my point is this is why I say it's very important not to see this as simply about the Murdoch media. With any of these big media groups, you fall out with them and you watch out, because it's a it is literally relentless and unremitting once that happens, and my view is that that is what creates this situation in which these media people get a power in the system that is unhealthy and which I have felt, throughout my time, uncomfortable with. As I say, I took the decision and this I'm well aware could be subject to criticism I took the strategic decision to manage this, not confront it, but the power of it is indisputable.
Q. You mention the controlling element within the Associated titles. When you started off, it was the third Viscount Rothermere, I believe. He died in 1998. Mr Dacre, of course, was editor of the Daily Mail from 1992, but Sir David English was editor-in-chief until his death, equally in 1998. Where, until 1998, did power lie, as it were, within these titles in your view?
A. Oh, I think when Lord Rothermere, the father, was around, and David English, they were the controlling people there, and then, when they passed away both of them, I think, within a short period of time of each other then obviously it was Mr Dacre was then the chief person there.
Q. So he would be described as the controlling element from 1998; is that right?
A. Yes, I would say so.
Q. And not the fourth Viscount Rothermere?
A. I don't think so, personally, but, you know, I may be right or I may be wrong about that.
Q. Okay. Relationships between proprietors and editors. The present Prime Minister has said words to this effect, or maybe exactly: "We all got too close to News International." Should you be included in that sentence?
A. Yes, as I say, the way I put it is the closeness I mean, for me, with Rupert Murdoch and everyone else, this is a working relationship. It's actually subsequent to leaving office, I would say that my relationship is completely different with him and with his family now. In office, it wasn't this is why I say this concept of cosiness is not quite the way I would put it. It's that you were in a position I mean, it was a working relationship, but you were in a position where you were dealing with very powerful people who had a big impact within the political system, and, as I say, the big impact was hugely intensified and multiplied by the fact that if they were against you, they were absolutely out all out against you. And that's the issue, in my view. Would these relationships have mattered in any event? Yes. Look, to give you an example, in 2005 I thought it possible the Financial Times would shift back to supporting the Conservatives. Now, I cared about that. So, so far as I was able, I tried to make persuasive arguments as to why they should stick with us. I wouldn't for a minute suggest the Financial Times, had they decided to support the Conservatives, would have then gone all out in their news reporting against me. That wouldn't have happened. So even if newspapers are behaving in a perfectly you know, within the bounds of separating news and comment and everything, these relationships matter. And it's important to say that, otherwise I think we'll get to a completely unrealistic view where we ignore history and say politicians and media people should have nothing to do with each other. We're bound to have that close interaction. It's not the closeness, in my judgment, that's the problem; it's the kind of imbalance that comes into it, because you know that at a certain point, with certain elements of them, if you're in a position where you're pursuing a course you believe in and they don't believe in it, or they don't believe in you, then you're in a big fight. That big fight's something you have to take into account before you decide to go off in a particular direction. So, you know, that's the difference that I would say. So I've always you know, when I've heard people describe this as cosy and close and so on, that's not quite the way I would put it. I don't know whether it's worse to put it in the way I'm putting it, but it's a little different, I think.
Q. Possibly it's an unspoken but really self-evident aspect of the terms of engagement between you. Is that a fair description?
A. Yes, I think that is a fair description. I mean, you know, they're aware of the power they have and you're aware that they have it.
Q. In a slightly different context, I used the term "finely tuned antennae", which some people didn't like very much, but does that come close to describing it or not in your view?
A. In the sense of
Q. That was in the sense, I think, of a particular lunch at Chequers before your time on 4 January 1981. You probably will recall that little vignette, but I'm now speaking more generally.
A. Finely tuned antennae in the sense of your antennae to what you thought their
Q. Exactly.
A. You knew what each other's positions were. I mean, they weren't very secret. But I think that in itself you know, this is one of the things I find hardest about this is, as I say, distinguishing what is wrong from what is inevitable. I can't imagine a situation, given the penetration of our media and this what is I think the other really important thing, which is the way I think broadcasters are very, very strongly influenced by the agenda of the press. It would be pretty bizarre if the senior politicians didn't have reasonably strong relationships with major media people. I don't think that in and of itself is unhealthy, I have to say. I think it is virtually inevitable and sensible for any political leader. It's this additional dimension that I'm honing in on and saying that's what I think is the probably, because that's what I I'm really almost describing how I felt at the time. So, you see, for example, with Rupert Murdoch, was it important to try and get the Sun on board anyway? Absolutely. You know, they had been, you know, a major part of supporting Mrs Thatcher and the Conservative Party in all those 18 years and, you know, they did, frankly, and do, represent a certain strain of support that Labour might have but hadn't had throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. So, you know, even if the situation had not been as I described, if I'd been given the chance to go and persuade them to come over to Labour, I would have taken that. That's why I think it's just important that we try and calibrate this very carefully. Otherwise I think, you know, we'll get into a situation that's a bit unrealistic.
Q. Okay. Do you accept that you may have contributed to the mystique, if I can put it in that way, by, at the time, not publicising each meeting with Mr Murdoch and/or by inviting him through the back door?
A. I don't think we published any of the meetings with the media people, actually. But the reason for having I mean, not just him, but certain people who you knew would then spend days trying to explain what you were talking about, was simply that you would spend days explaining what you were talking about, so look, I think in future it's probably better you publish everything but I don't think we actually published other media meetings either. But I can check on that.
Q. Though there may be a huge leap between lack of transparency and conspiracy, lack of transparency certainly gives rise to speculation. Would you accept that?
A. Yes, I mean I don't I think Alastair Campbell said to you in his evidence that and he left he came in the back door, but there was no great conspiracy. It's just that you didn't need another great another flurry about whether he was coming back or taking over or whatever.
Q. In relation to Mrs Brooks, do you feel that you got too close to her when you were in power?
A. I don't know look, Rebekah Brooks mattered, obviously, because she I think she was the editor of the Sun during my time. She didn't actually come to this more senior position at News International until after I'd left. And I guess towards the end particularly and I think you'll see a lot of the meetings and calls were towards the end there wasn't a great deal of support left. So those people that did, sure, I was pretty close to. But again, bluntly, the decision-maker was not Rebekah Brooks in relation to this.
Q. It was obviously Mr Murdoch?
A. Yes. He was the key decision maker for sure.
Q. A schedule of all your contacts with proprietors and editors between May 1997 and June 2007 has been provided. It runs to 18 pages. I'm sure we can put that on the screen.
A. Yeah.
Q. There's another schedule which we've prepared which looks at interactions with Mr Murdoch and only one of them, really with Rebekah Wade between 15 September 1994 and 1 May 1997, which of course was election day. There's only one point arising out of those earlier interactions. There are not that many of them. It's dinner at Mossimans on 15 September 1994, which had been arranged by Gus and Gillian Fisher. Do you remember anything about that?
A. I remember that such a dinner took place. I don't remember a great deal about it, frankly, but I've seen this Andrew Neil account.
Q. There's an account we don't know its source from Mr Neil. Full disclosure. In the bundle we've put together for you, it's pages 31 and 32.
A. Yeah.
Q. Mr Fisher is described as Rupert's senior man in London. Is that right or not? This is September 1994, of course.
A. I think so. I think I remember him being there for I think for a reasonably short time, actually, but I certainly remember him, yeah.
Q. Mr Neil says that he had been lobbying the Labour Party on News International's behalf on such issues as cross-media ownership and Sky TV's control of satellite scrambling systems. Did you know about that?
A. I don't recall specifically being told about it, but look, I would have known what their position was, certainly on media ownership, and most particularly, the issue that I do remember they were very strong on was statutory recognition of trade unions, which, given obviously what had happened in the past, is not surprising.
Q. According to Mr Neil, he this is Gus Fisher had also struck up a relationship with you.
A. Mrs Gus Fisher?
Q. I think it's
A. I'm afraid I I'm sorry, I don't recall that one, but
Q. Nothing of that nature here.
A. Which is not to say it didn't happen, by the way
Q. It's Mr Fisher, Mr Blair.
A. Sorry?
Q. Mr Fisher.
A. Oh, Mr Fisher. I thought you said Mrs Fisher.
Q. No.
A. Okay.
Q. I think "relationship" is just in the sense of a very loose friendship.
A. Yeah.
Q. I'm not sure exactly what the implication is there, though.
A. Right.
Q. I think the suggestion may be that you well knew what his position was and what his company's position was on the cross-media ownership issue. Is that right?
A. Yeah, of course. I mean and look, our position was as I say, I mean, I decided I was not going to take this issue on. I actually don't believe, by the way, that ownership is the issue here. I think it's the rules under which the media operate. But we had or I had taken the decision we weren't going to do a big inquiry into cross-media ownership. I thought it would be a distraction for the Labour Party coming into office. I don't specifically recall it's perfectly possible it would have come out at the dinner and I'd have explained our position, as I would have on statutory recognition.
Q. Yes, because Mr Neil's account of the dinner, apart from it going, apparently, very well: Mr Murdoch indicated his newspapers were not wedded to the Tories. Does that chime with your recollection?
A. Yeah, not specifically at that dinner, but I think it was clear that there was an openness there hadn't been before because of the way I was changing the Labour Party, and I think no, I hadn't actually put the clause 4 thing at that point up there, but it was obvious I was going to be a different type of Labour leader, so
Q. Then you apparently indicated that media ownership Rules would not be onerous under Labour. Is it possible that you said that?
A. I think "not onerous" is not the way I would have put it. I can't specifically remember what was said, but it's perfectly possible, if that issue came up, I would have said, "That's not an issue we're going to be taking on."
Q. So whatever the position, by the end of that dinner, Mr Murdoch would have had some degree of comfort from you, at least in this particular domain. Are we agreed about that?
A. Yeah, but I don't know that he would have particularly taken it as I wasn't this was not something I was doing in order to get support from the Murdoch empire. On the contrary, it was something I wasn't going to take this issue I've said right from the outset. If we'd come into power and started a great thing about who owned what in the media, it would have, in my view, been a huge distraction for the Labour Party, and as I recall it, the big issue they were genuinely worried about, and where there was and I think they were perfectly entitled to do this, by the way, where we were lobbying very hard was on our commitment to trade union recognition, because we and we did introduce trade union recognition.
Q. It may be there are two things going on here, that for separate reasons the issue of cross-media ownership was not an issue you felt you were going to undertake because it would have been too controversial and would have occupied too much time, but secondly, it might have been necessary to communicate a degree of reassurance about that to Mr Murdoch so at least he understood that. Is that possible?
A. Look, they would have understood it anyway when we published our manifesto and so on, but of course, I'm not I wasn't unaware of the fact that this would have if we'd decided to do this, they would have been centre stage in that, and one of the reasons why the Labour Party had always advocated this was partly because they'd fallen out very badly with the whole Murdoch press and this was, you know, in a sense, aimed at them. That is absolutely correct. But I didn't then and don't think now that's quite apart from the fact, by the way, of what you should do or taking on these broader issues to do with the press. I mean, consistently my view was that it was not ownership that was the issue, and I held that all the way through, and still do, by the way, that the question is not (a) whether you're foreign owners or British owners, or (b), subject to competition and monopoly issues and trust issues, about media ownership. The issue is the culture and rules under which people play. So that's it was yes, of course, I wasn't unaware of the fact that, you know, the Murdoch media group would have been worried had we decided to launch some great inquiry into cross-media ownership or media ownership, but on the other hand, that's not actually the reason why we took the position we did.
Q. In terms of this schedule which you compiled, I think with assistance from the Cabinet Office, to corroborate various meetings, it runs to 18 pages. I think we can put it on the screen. It is available. In terms of trying to discern trends, which may be difficult, certainly at an early stage, after 1 May 1997, you were fairly, indeed entirely eclectic in your choice of who you would meet with and speak to. In other words, we see a whole range of editors and sometimes proprietors from all the main national newspapers; is that fair?
A. Mm-hm.
Q. There's even a meeting with Mr Dacre on 1 July 1997.
A. Yeah, I think there were several, actually, over time.
Q. Those meetings with Mr Dacre appear to have ceased at a certain point, certainly by about 2001. There's a meeting on 18 January 2000 with him, but I think that may be the last one.
A. I didn't I haven't we literally were collating this just on information that's come in on the last two or three days. You may well be right.
Q. There's some meetings with News International which haven't been included, which may or may not be correct LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not sure you're right, actually, to be fair, because on 13 July 2000, there was a dinner with Mr Dacre and Lord Rothermere.
Q. Yes. It's 2001, I think, was the LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Oh, you actually said 2000. MR JAY Oh, did I? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON 2001. Very good. MR JAY I don't think there's one after 2000.
A. Yeah.
Q. We can check, but I think I'm right about that. As this goes through, the picture is, I think, fairly stated to be a greater interaction with Mr Murdoch and certainly with Rebekah Wade. Would that be a fair assessment?
A. Well, I think yeah, I mean as I mean, I think if you collate all these meetings, I think about a third were with and calls, by the way, because we've included calls as well. I think basically half of the interactions that we've recorded were calls and not meetings, and I think it's about one-third with the Murdoch media, two-thirds were with others, but I think you're right obviously, certain people I mean, frankly, it became pretty pointless to have the meetings with, for example, the Mail group, past a certain point. So in a sense there is a this probably then some of the people get stripped out for reasons that are to do with there really not being much point in doing it. I think at a certain point the Express people told me they had to change their line and then it became also pretty pointless to see them. But just on the numbers of meetings, I actually found this a bit confusing as to trying to align the records in my diary, what Rupert Murdoch and others have put in their evidence. For example, Piers Morgan says that he met me on what would be, I think, 56 times, he said, and I can't find that many, but that's not to say it didn't happen. I mean, I just so I'm sort of giving a disclaimer on this. There may have been, by the way, sometimes calls or meetings that were fixed that didn't take place, and at other times they may have so LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But this can only be taken as a broad picture.
A. Yeah. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It can't be analysed with the sort of forensic accuracy that might otherwise be thought appropriate, and it isn't necessary, I don't think, for the purpose of the exercise.
A. Yes, because I wouldn't dispute in any shape or form that I wasn't interacting with these people closely. MR JAY Rebekah Brooks, in her statement, has about five or six additional lunches or dinners which you haven't included, but she may or may not be right about those. The references are 05275 and 05276 of the MOD3 file, but I suspect nothing much is going to turn on all those.
A. Yeah, I think also it sometimes depends on whether, as it were, it's a I think my stuff is basically about specific meetings, but there may have been occasions when you go to somebody's house or something and they might be there, or something like that. Now, I haven't included that as a meeting, unless the purpose was to see them.
Q. At the time of the Iraq war, just in the run-up to it, on page 11 of this little schedule, Mr Blair, you've listed the three calls with Mr Murdoch, on 11, 13 and 19 March, but you would no doubt wish to draw attention to the fact that there were calls with other editors and meetings as well.
A. Yeah. Look, this is a huge issue, obviously. I mean, my recollection is that I initiated one of those calls. I actually in fact only remember two, but the records show there were three, although I think they were no more than 45 minutes in total for all three. But, you know, I would have been wanting to explain what we were doing, and I did this I think I had similar calls with the Observer and the Telegraph, and indeed I had a lunch later with the Guardian. So, you know, I think that's it's not I wouldn't say there's anything particularly unusual or odd about that when you're facing such a huge issue. Now, none of these calls were particularly long, but they were important.
Q. At that stage, of course, I think all the Murdoch papers in the world whether there's 173 or 175 I can't remember now, but they'd all taken the same position before 11 March 2003, so there was no question of you, as it were, persuading them to take a position which they had not already attained for their own reasons. But was the subject matter of any of the calls about the tone of the coverage in the Sun and the Times or not?
A. No. No, it was really I mean, it was really to do with I would be explaining this is how I saw things. I think with him, probably, I would have also have been asking him what the situation was in the US, for example, in Australia, which were also major parts of the Coalition. But no, it wouldn't have been about the tone of the coverage. I mean, look, they were supportive of it and that was that.
Q. So the suggestion which someone has made that the articles in the Sun which were hostile to President Chirac, it's completely wrong, you would say, to associate cause and effect here, that the subject of the calls was nothing to do with that; is that right?
A. Absolutely, and by the way, since I was having to deal with President Chirac, and in the aftermath where, I have to say, he behaved very graciously, given we'd had this agreement the last thing I wanted was suggestions we were winding up the Eurosceptic media to go and denounce him. So both with him and with the German chancellor at the time, I was actually very concerned to make sure I think we had a European council shortly after the Iraq action began and I was actually very concerned at that to try to bring everyone back together because we then wanted a United Nations resolution, which we subsequently got, which then validated the presence of foreign troops there. So for me, it was very important we kept these people on side.
Q. After the third election, which was April or May 2005 it was April, actually virtually, not all, but the majority of your interactions are either with Mr Murdoch or Rebekah Wade in this schedule. Would you agree with that?
A. It certainly becomes you know, at that point, frankly, they are the main group that are still reasonably supportive. Although I notice there are others that come in too, by the way, but I think especially as I was coming up to the point of departure, because obviously I was trying also to get across the legacy of ten years in office and so on, by then, frankly, there was not a great deal they could do for me one way or another, as it were, but I think you know, inevitably, as time goes on, you tend to associate more with those that at least will give you a fair shot of it.
Q. They remain, I suppose, a sympathetic ear or pair of ears in what was become increasingly hostile media landscape?
A. Yes, it was very hostile during that time, and you know, I had won a third election, I never intended to fight a fourth, but I was under pretty constant pressure all the way after 2005 to step down and there was a lot of political manoeuvring around that, obviously. So that was an important media relationship. But I would say that was sort of more important because for the reason you give, namely that there was a certain amount of support and willingness at least to put across our point of view, whereas by that time, a significant part of the media were effectively a kind of closed book to us.
Q. Can I look now at some evidence, if that is what it is, of your interactions, in particular with the News International papers and issues surrounding that from 1994. In Chris Mullins' diaries, which is page 2 in the bundle we've prepared, he notes a meeting he had with you on 17 November 1994.
A. Yeah.
Q. You see at the bottom of page 2, three lines from the bottom: "We [that's you and Mr Mullin] talked about his dinner with Murdoch, who apparently hadn't tried to sound him out on his plans." So far so good, at least as your recollection is of that meeting?
A. Yeah, that might be, by the way, a reference to that Gus Fisher dinner. I mean, I was saying to you I don't know what he raised at that I can't recall it precisely, but this is what I'm saying this is in November, is it, 1994?
Q. Yes.
A. And the dinner was
Q. The dinner was 15 September 1994.
A. So it probably was that dinner, actually.
Q. There's no evidence of any other dinner between 15 September and 17 November, and you might say well, anyway, we can see what this says.
A. Yeah.
Q. "Tony said he had the impression that these days Murdoch's principal issues were in Asia." And then this: "If I thinks we're going to win, he'll go easy on us, but if he thought we could lose, he would turn on us." He added: "If the press misbehave badly during the election campaign, I will stop everything for two days and we'll have a debate about what they're up to, who owns them, the lot." Then Mr Mullin: "Did you say that to Murdoch?" And your answer: "Not in so many words." Is that an accurate gist then of your conversation with Mr Mullin?
A. I think it is. I mean, as I say, this is going back 18 years or 17 and a half years now, but certainly that was my attitude. I think now, by the way, I would have a slightly different view. In other words, I think there was a view of Rupert Murdoch, which I think Paul Keating speaks to the same effect, which is that he just backs the winner. My view now is it's not as simple as that actually. There are very strong political views and those actually do come first, I think, or put it like this: they're equal first, let's say, with whatever interests he feels in being on the winning side or the losing side, and you know, so I'm not my view of this now is if he'd been persuaded I mean, it looked as if we were going to win, so you didn't have to be a genius to think we had a good chance of winning, although when you've lost four a row, by the way, you never think it's that clear. So I'm not sure I would have the same view now about that, but that may well have been what I said to Chris and to and yes, look, if I'd ended up in a situation where they turned on me, I would have had to fight back. You know, there's no that would have been the only recourse. And we weren't in 1992, we weren't really in a position where we were able to fight back, but this time we would have. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It puts them in a tremendously powerful position. I mean, here you are embarking upon the prospect of government, and you're sufficiently concerned to say, "Well, look, if they really are going to turn on us, then all bets are off, we'll have to do something about it", and I'd be just interested in your view on the power that that means there does in fact reside in just a few people.
A. Well, I I think basically, there is a substantial power there. As I say, in my view, not simply in the Murdoch media. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, I understand that, I understand.
A. But, yes, look, there's no I was looking at this as the leader of the Labour Party. We lose four elections. As I say, I went through that 1992 election. Now, by the way, there are all sorts of reasons, mistakes that we made, which meant that the election result I don't blame the media for us having lost. I make that absolutely clear. But, no, the power is significant, and it's significant for the reason that I give. It would be significant anyway. That's why I have to I keep qualifying what I'm saying because I think if you have a readership of 3 to 4 million, even if the newspapers are behaving in the most totally proper way, that's power, and I think I don't know any other way of describing it. But yes, I mean, if you looked at those main media blocs, of which the Murdoch press were the most powerful but there were others that were very powerful as well, yeah, that was definitely a major factor had you to take into account when you were working out your strategy for winning and governing. Now, as I say, was it more you know, supposing they decided to oppose us in the 1997 election. My view is we would still have won. So I think we have to also be careful of I think actually we were sometimes guilty of ascribing to them a power that they ultimately don't really have and actually have less today than I think back then, but sitting trying to put myself back 18 years and sitting in that seat and thinking, "Right, how are we going to create the right circumstances in which we get a fair hearing for our case?", this was important. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Jay, is that convenient? MR JAY Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON We have a break to allow the shorthand writer to recover.
A. Right. (11.24 am) (A short break) (11.35 am) MR JAY Mr Blair, the other point on this extract from Mr Mullins' diary, the lines: "Did you say that to Murdoch? "Not in so many words." You're intending to communicate to Mr Mullin that obviously the clear and stark message which we see at the top of the page might not have been imparted to Mr Murdoch; a more attenuated, subtle version might have been. Do you accept that or not?
A. Yeah, I can't honestly remember precisely what I would have said, and frankly it wasn't you know, it wasn't an occasion, that dinner, as I recall it, where I was going out there to start banging the table, so I don't I don't know whether it sums up what I said to him or the implication or not, really.
Q. Then at the end of this little encounter with Mr Mullin, you apparently say: "My absolutely priority is to win. I know that sounds unprincipled, but I just see it as my role in life." Might you have said that?
A. Yup, sounds like it. I mean, by the way, let me emphasise: I don't think it's unprincipled to win. I think if you believe in what you're doing, you should. But yes, I don't it would be pointless to do anything else. But I saw an ability to go out there and persuade the Murdoch group, as I did with others, as important.
Q. Mr Neil has attributed something that you said to him. Page 15 of this bundle. This is the introduction to the paperback edition of his book, "Full disclosure". He says, about ten lines down: "Blair once said to me: 'How we treat Rupert Murdoch's media interests when in power will depend on how his newspapers treat the Labour Party in the run-up to the election.'" Might you have said that to him?
A. I don't recall saying that, frankly, but I think the general tone of what I might well have said to him is: "Look, if Rupert Murdoch's going to wage war on us, we're going to stand up to them." But all the way through, for me, as it were, the issue of media interests other than the fact, as I averred to at the outset, I'd taken a strategic decision I was not going to put this at the forefront of our programme as a government, you know, I was, as it were that was not my issue. So, you know, I don't think it's a question of media interests, but had they as I'm saying to Chris Mullin back then and I don't, as I say, recall precisely the words I used, but there's no doubt at all that if what they'd done is started to treat me as they had Neil Kinnock, I would have fought back in a very tough way.
Q. Can we move forward to Hayman Island and Mr Campbell's account in his diary. First of all, page 6 of this bundle. The entry for 16 July 1995, about halfway down. This is what Mr Campbell attributes to what Mr Keating, the then Australian Prime Minister, told you: "On Murdoch he told TB: 'He's a big bad bastard and the only way you can deal with him is make sure he thinks you can be a big bad bastard too.'" Is that what Mr Keating said, or words to that effect?
A. It sounds absolutely like what Paul Keating would have said. I mean, again, I don't recall the precise language, but I guess this it is how Alastair recorded this contemporaneously, so I'm perfectly happy to accept it.
Q. "You can do deals with him without ever saying a deal is done, but the only thing he cares about is his business and the only thing which he respects is strength." Was that advice given by Mr Keating?
A. That was Paul Keating's view, and he, as he does, expressed himself in robust terms. I mean, I actually came in time to have a different view myself, which wasn't as simple as that, but, yeah, it's perfectly possible he said that. As I say, if Alistair's recorded that at the time, I'm happy to accept it.
Q. Because Mr Keating's statement, I suppose, chimes with the implied deal thesis, which, are we clear, do you accept or do you reject it?
A. So far as we're concerned I mean, I can't answer for him, obviously so far as we're concerned, absolutely I do reject it. There was no deal on issues to do with the media with Rupert Murdoch, or indeed with anybody else, either express or implied, and to be fair, he never sought such a thing. So was I aware of the fact that he had certain interests and was I aware of the fact the media as a whole had a very strong interest in us not legislating on the media? Absolutely. But in terms of, implied or express, some deal about media interests, absolutely not. Indeed, as I go on to say in my statement, when we actually came to the specific issues in relation to the Murdoch media group, we more often decided against them than in favour of them.
Q. The last comment of Mr Keating's at page 8, we're still on 16 July. I think you'd just been to a barbecue. About ten lines down: "You have so remember with Rupert, it is all about Rupert. Rupert is number one, two, three and four as far as Rupert is concerned. Anna and the kids come next and everything else is a long way behind." Is that what he might have said?
A. Yeah, he may well have said that. Again, I'm perfectly happy to accept it. You know, there was a the relationship with the Australian Labour Party and Rupert Murdoch is a whole other volume, as it were, and I think Paul Paul's view of it was very you know, was very straightforward. As I say, in time I didn't really quite buy the crudeness of that, but it sounds to me exactly the type of thing he would have said.
Q. Okay. Can we move forward in time to 29 January we're now in 1997 LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Just before you move from the Hayman Islands presumably this was, for perfectly understandable reasons, a charm offensive. You wanted the Murdoch press to support the Labour Party, for understandable reasons. Does that not come out in something else that appears in Mr Campbell's diaries, where you got somebody to go through the speech from a Murdoch angle this is page 6: "He liked it, thought it had a clear message. There was enough in it for the News Corp lot and enough for the anti-Murdoch neuralgics."
A. Absolutely. Look, I wouldn't have been going all the way around the world and I remember I had to go after one Prime Minister's questions and return for the next if it hadn't been a very deliberate and, again, very strategic decision that I was going to go and try and persuade them. I had a minimum and maximum objective. The minimum objective was to stop them tearing us to pieces and the maximum objectives was, if possible, to open the way to support. Now, actually, the speech I gave yes, of course you had to balance it very carefully. There's no policy positions I changed, and actually in the speech I went out of my way and we were very careful about this to make sure I emphasised support for minimum wage, union recognition, pro-European position, increases in public investment, all of which may not have been what they wanted to hear. On the other hand, what I felt perfectly comfortable in doing was saying and this I was perfectly comfortable with saying, "This Labour Party is going to be a party of aspiration, not merely redistribution. It's going to be a party that's going to appeal to the emerging aspirant working class. It's going to be a party that is essentially about creating a meritocratic society and expanding opportunity and it's not going to go back to the old ways." But that was a message I was determined to give to the country. Part of this for me, with the Murdoch media group, was me, as it were, using them as a conduit to that vote, and I don't as I say, I don't know think that I would strongly defend and say you're perfectly entitled to do that, and they were you know, to bring the Sun and the News of the World to the point where at least they were prepared to give you a fair hearing was, you know you've got to think back to that time. That was kind of revolutionary for the Labour Party to be in that position. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But it required you at least to have thought about, if not calibrated, what you knew Mr Murdoch would like to hear.
A. Absolutely. You know, if you're going out to go and persuade someone indeed, you can say this about the voters in general and the rest of the media group, but of course you were going to calibrate carefully. Again, I think that's a sensible part of putting across your case, provided you're not changing your case. If you take statutory recognition, for example, for trade unions, that was something they deeply disliked but it was something I was committed to. So there's two ways of putting that. You can say, you know: "Margaret Thatcher waged war on the trade unions and I'm determined to bring the unions back to their proper place of power." Right? Not very sensible to put it that way. Or you so say, "It should be the basic human rights of any individual to be a member of a trade union and, if there is sufficient support for union membership at the workplace, for them to be recognised. That's a matter of basic individual rights." So you could have put this in a way that was about collective power or you could have put it in a way that was about individual rights. My view is it's perfectly open to you to say: the best way of putting this case is to say it's about individual rights, and I'd already fought this whole thing within the Labour Party, getting rid of support for the closed shop and so on and so forth. So I had, you know, a certain amount of accumulated credibility on this issue, but of course you want to put your case across in the best way possible. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But that's no different is this fair? Would you say that is no different to any speech you might make to any group?
A. Correct. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You think precisely about what they want to hear and load bits that fit with your philosophy of what they want to hear into it but also the other bits?
A. Yes, sir, that's absolutely right, and if I'm the first politician to do that, I'd be surprised. I think it's just a part of the art of politics. But what is important, I think, to emphasise and that's why I actually draw attention in my statement to the Guardian report, for example, of my speech the next day I actually did have in all the things that we were committed to they wouldn't like. I was also because I was having to watch my other audience as well. MR JAY Okay. 29 January 1997 now, Mr Blair. We're page 9 of this bundle. We're still in Mr Campbell's diaries. Two-thirds of the way down the page, he says: "TB was due to see Murdoch on Monday and said it angered him that the meeting mattered but it did." I mean, first of all, has Mr Campbell accurately set out what you apparently told him?
A. I think so, yes. That was my view all the way through, in a way, which is where I come to the what I think is how I would define the unhealthy part of this relationship, because I mean but yeah. I mean, I felt that it really did matter, and I still believe that, by the way, and that's not again, not simply a point with them, although they were probably the most powerful of the groups, but with all of them, and it mattered because the consequence of not getting it right was so severe, frankly.
Q. But did it not rile with you in another sense, that maybe you felt that your policies had to be calibrated in some way to reflect the views of this very powerful institution?
A. No, not not really that. Look, when I said to you at the very beginning that I took a strategic decision to manage these people, not confront them, let me make it clear, that wasn't you know, I am not saying I feared them in the sense I mean, obviously I was aware of their power. I'm not saying I feared them in the sense that had I believed that that was the most important thing for the government to concentrate on, I would have done it. My issue is very simple about this, that I believe that had you decided to confront, everything else would have been pushed to the side, as I said earlier, and it would the have been in a huge battle with no guarantee of winning, and it's taken, frankly, what has happened in order to have this debate and for me to be sitting here and for this Inquiry to be taking place. So what I did in managing it I was very careful. So, for example, you know, in articles we wrote for the Sun before the 1997 election, you know, you stressed the bit of your European policy that was going to appeal, okay? But I didn't change the policy. And some of the stuff about, you know, in relation to Europe, we didn't do things because of the Murdoch media, that's not correct, actually. I was a pro-European when I came in and I left in the same vein. I did not change our positions on core policy issues at all. On the other hand, managing these forces was, you know, a major part of what you had to do and was difficult.
Q. In your conversations with Mr Murdoch at about this time, or perhaps later as well, when you were in power, it's quite clear that the main subject matter was the big political issues of the day, including, of course, the euro, which was very much a concern to Mr Murdoch, but did you also have conversations about issues such as regulation or the BBC?
A. No, not I mean, regulation he was basically a deregulator rather than a regulator, so in general terms I can't recall conversations about media regulation per se. I mean, he didn't lobby me on media stuff. That's not to say we weren't aware of the positions their companies had, because we were, but as I say, we decided more often against than in favour. But the bulk of the conversation was about politics, and Europe was a very large part of that because we had a serious problem, because he had very, very strong views on Europe and so did I. So, you know, that was a the conversations there were really basically politics and about politics too. I also used to find those interesting, because, for example, on issues in relation to the United States, he had as good an insight as anyone else I was talking to at the time.
Q. At what point exactly it may be difficult to define a moment did a close friendship develop between the two of you?
A. This would be you know, I would describe my relationship with him as a working relationship until after I left office. So I got to I know there been all this stuff about me being godfather to one of his children. I would never have become a godfather to his child on the basis of my relationship with him in office. But after I left, I got to know him better, and frankly, the relationship can be a lot easier and better, and his family. So, you know, now it's different and it's not the same I don't feel the same pressures. So you're able to have a relationship in a way that also because there are lots of other things that he's involved in and does that are of you know, that are interesting and don't involve issues to do with British politics, when I was the Prime Minister and you were in a relationship that, as I say, was a working relationship but it also had this fairly acute tension at the heart of it.
Q. Is it because the elimination of the powerful undercurrents, which you refer to stopping in June 2007, made it possible to have a different sort of relationship; is that it?
A. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that's exactly it.
Q. Or is it because over the course of time you got to know each other better, and certainly by your third term, you were, by then, pretty friendly?
A. No, I think you know, all the way through I was this was when you're you know, you're Prime Minister and you're dealing with people, you have power, obviously, as the Prime Minister. They have power as the leader of a major media group. So it's a relationship that's about power, and I find those relationships not personal, actually. They're working, to me. That doesn't mean to say you're not as charming with people and get on with them as well as you can, but as I say, I would never have become, for example, godfather to one of the children on that basis. Now, what people see here, as a result of what has happened and the appalling things that happened, is one aspect of Rupert Murdoch and his media interests here in this country. So once you leave office, that's that's not the issue any more. So it can become different, and frankly, healthier.
Q. Mrs Brooks, if I can move to her, was she someone who exercised power, in your view, albeit in a very different way?
A. Rebekah Brooks was obviously important because she was the editor of the Sun and I would be interacting reasonably often with them. But as I think I said to you earlier, there was no doubt in my mind though was the key decision-maker. At that point, at any rate. It may have changed when she took over from Les Hinton.
Q. But did she not exercise power in the sense that she was, as it were, the centre of a network and also, on occasion, capable of administering personal attacks?
A. Not I mean, look, so far as I was concerned, you know centre of a network? I mean, I think, you know, for example, going to social occasions at which she would be part of it, I don't think there were very many of those when I was there. Indeed, again, I probably got to know her better after I left office. On the attack side, look, let me just make one thing absolutely clear: I did never and would never have asked her or indeed anybody else to conduct attacks on individuals. Despite what people may think and some of the stuff that's been written, I absolutely hate that type of politics and did not engage in it.
Q. Her statement makes it clear, paragraphs 53 and 54 at page 02580, which is under tab 17 in our bundle she says a number of things: "I've had many formal, informal and social meetings with him, some which I've been able to detail. We also spoke on the telephone on a variety of issues. Tony Blair, his senior Cabinet advisers and press secretaries were a constant presence in my life for many years." Is that a fair encapsulation of the position, Mr Blair?
A. Yeah, I mean, if you take the whole of the relationships within government, but then I think you'd say that, probably, to be fair, about most of the senior political media people.
Q. Did she have ready access to you and your senior Cabinet effectively whenever she wanted it?
A. I don't know whenever she wanted it, but if she was if there was an issue that concerned her I mean, I don't know whether she would necessarily have come on to me about it, but I should imagine most most Cabinet ministers will take the call of an editor of a major newspaper. I'd be surprised if they didn't. And I don't think per se there's anything wrong in that and, you know, on certain occasions I would have. But I think, again, you just have to be careful of distinguishing what is inevitable from what is wrong. I would say, you know back in the 60s, would that not have been the case? Even the 50s? I don't know. But I would be surprised if the editor of a major newspaper wanted to speak to a Cabinet Minister, they didn't LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not sure it's necessarily either inevitable or wrong, whether there isn't some other issue. Something you said just a few moments ago, which actually chimes a little bit with this question Mr Jay is asking, was this: "Managing these forces [that's of the press] was a major part of what you had to do and was difficult." One of the questions which I would like to know the answer to is whether, at the beginning, in the middle, at the end of your period, managing the press was actually interfering with the time that you had available to solve the most important questions that you had to solve, and if so, what can be done about that? Now, I appreciate the second half is a much more difficult question.
A. No, I wouldn't say it was ever look, most of these calls were pretty short. So mean no, it definitely wouldn't be the case that I was so busy dealing with the media I couldn't focus on the issues of the day. What is more, I would say that sort of managing the media inevitably is a part of trying to manage if you're trying to put through, for example, let's say tuition fees, which was the single thing that was probably most difficult in terms of votes in the House of Commons for me as Prime Minister and the thing where I nearly lost the vote and then would have had to have resigned, or academy schools I mean, interacting with them would have been important on these issues. Now that's why I'm trying to use my words very carefully here. Where I would I would agree with you, though, sir, is where it would sort of step over the line, in a sense, would be that it became incredibly important to have this support because otherwise you literally couldn't get your message across at all. So that's and that comes back to what I'm trying to identify here as the central issue for the politicians. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I quite understand. It was because of your phrase, "a major part of what you had to do and was difficult". I just wondered whether that increased or diminished in your period in office?
A. Funnily enough, I think probably in one sense look, in my last three or four years it's what I always say to people about the problem you have as a political leader, that you begin at your least capable and most popular, and you end at your least popular and most capable, and frankly, actually, towards the end, in a way, by then, I had just decided I was going to do what I thought was right. So I would say media managing, probably I did more in my first bit than my last bit. But having said that, no, I would describe you know, having regard to the media was a major factor, but maybe it's always going to be that. That's why I'd been you know, if you were looking back in time, I can't believe there's been prime ministers who didn't take that as a major are part of what they do. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Except that and it may be that Mr Jay will come onto this you took the decision that you needed somebody to direct your communications who had a real background in tabloid journalism and took the responsibilities very seriously and very effectively, and
A. Sure. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON now we see that political leaders generally appear to have followed the same sort of pattern.
A. Yes, that's an absolutely correct point. I mean, look, what I could see developing and by the way, this is even more so today. You have 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week media. You have stories the thing that's changed and I noticed this, by the way, around the world; this is not a specific British problem is the interaction between social media and conventional media today means that you get what used to be a building wave of opinion, which, if you intervened in the right way, you could maybe it would then ebb again. It now reaches tsunami force within hours sometimes, days certainly, and can capsize a can literally wash a government away. You see this around the world. So for example, I think when you're analysing these Arab revolutions, which in the work I do now I see quite closely, I would say social media is an absolutely integral part of what has happened there. I would say today absolutely, you're right. Today, this whole issue of managing the media is far more difficult and far more important because I mean, this is not a criticism; it's just a fact. The fact is it occurs in a way and with an intensity that, in the old days, wouldn't have happened. This is why I used to say to people, when they used so say, "Your Cabinet meetings don't last long enough" and I used to always give the example that Roy Jenkins used to give me back in the 60s, where a Cabinet decision would go on for two days and at the end of it they would have a show of hands around the time. By the time I became Prime Minister, if a Cabinet meeting went on for two days I mean, forget it. It would have been total crisis mode for the whole of the government. And if I'd said to them: "Right, we're going to have a show of hands now", who had voted which way and how would have been out within 30 seconds and you would have all I'm saying is the business of politics part of the problem here, which is why this is the right moment to assess what can be done, is the business of politics has become acutely more difficult, not the fault of either politicians or media, but because the system within which you operate, the technology that's available, the way it works today is just fundamentally different. And this is a problem, by the way you know, this is a problem that has arisen here in a particular way and this is why we have this Inquiry, but I tell you, you could talk to any leader in the democratic world today and they would say to you this is a major question for them, as to how they have the right interaction with the media in a world that is just light years away from what we grew up with. MR JAY Your informal contacts with Mrs Brooks, or at least what she refers to, did many of those have to do with her personal support for you in the context of what she describes as deepening hostility between you and Mr Brown?
A. I've read that in her evidence. Actually, to be fair to her, she was, you know, pretty cautious, actually, about whatever she said about Gordon Brown and basically was supportive of him taking over, with me at any rate. No I mean, look, they were about politics in a pretty general way. As I say, so far as at that point, at any rate, for the Murdoch press, I mean, I had my own relationship with Rupert Murdoch and he was the key decision-maker.
Q. What did you feel about some of her campaigns, in particular Sarah's Law? Did that appeal to you or not?
A. No, I was pretty ambivalent about that, as I think I said to her at the time. I mean, I understood why she thought it was a big problem but I thought particularly the way the trouble with any of these campaigns is that if you're not careful, the way they're conducted ends up getting out of hand.
Q. Do you feel this one did?
A. Yeah.
Q. What about some of the personal attacks in the Sun against some of your colleagues?
A. My attitude to that throughout was always to say I mean, not merely to her but to anybody else I mean, I didn't like it, I don't like it, I think it's not the right way to conduct politics, but again, to be frank, this was not a matter simply for the Sun. I mean, you could spread that across the media piece.
Q. Did there come a point, as with Mr Murdoch, I suppose, that you developed a friendship with her?
A. Yes, for Rebekah Wade, or Rebekah Brooks as she became, again, probably closer once I left office, when again you were free from the constraints and when it wasn't a relationship that, as it were, is about the power relationship.
Q. Did you offer her any messages of support in July of last year?
A. I you know, I'm somebody who doesn't believe in being a fairweather friend, and certainly I said I was very sorry for what had happened to her and, you know, I remain obviously whatever has happened I don't know anything about the facts of the particular case, but I have been or seen people go through these situations and I know what it's like.
Q. Can I look at some specific case studies, I suppose, now. The first one is paragraph 16 of your statement, Mr Blair, where you deal with the issue of change of policy on media ownership between 1994 and 1997. I think you agree that there was a change of policy. Had you kept to the original policy, it would have been a problem for the Murdoch press, but then you say there were sound, objective reasons for changing it. Is that a fair summary of your evidence?
A. Yes, absolutely.
Q. Can I ask you, though, what were then the sound objective reasons for changing the policy?
A. They were twofold. First of all, I didn't and don't believe the issue of the ownership is what is important. In other words, I think that and I thought this particularly as we get later to the 2003 Communications Act. I think prejudices against foreign owners or saying this particular owner we like or we don't like I think it's better to deal with at least issues on the basis of competition for the concentration of media ownership and if you don't change the culture or the rules, then you won't actually improve the situation. And also, as I said to you earlier, I mean, I'd taken the view I was not going to have the Labour Party coming back into power after 18 years with a programme of change for the country and having the centrepiece of the programme being issues to do with media ownership. I thought that would have been a distraction and wrong.
Q. I think it was Mr Lance Price who has expressed the view that the cross-media ownership policy was quietly dropped within six months of the Hayman Island trip, which was in July 1995. Is that a fair assessment or not?
A. No, it's not a fair assessment. The fact is I was absolutely clear we weren't going to put this in the Labour Party programme. If you'd done that, you would have started off your time in government concentrating on the media, and I don't actually recall at the time many people arguing very fiercely in order to keep it there.
Q. Do you know exactly when this change of policy arose?
A. I don't. I mean, I can try and find out from the Labour Party policy people at the time.
Q. If Mr Price is right he may be wrong about cause and effect we're sort of at the back end of 1995, early 1996. Could that be right?
A. I don't know. I have to go and check it. I mean, don't let me on the other hand, as I say in my statement, had we kept that, it would definitely have been a problem with the Murdoch media group in particular, that's for sure, but I didn't think it was the right policy anyway, so, you know and I think really throughout my and also at the beginning part of my time in office, I was pretty much on the self-regulation side of the market. I came to a different view at a later stage. So in a way, the policy that we pursued then was consistent with the policy we first pursued in government. Now, had you decided to take all of that on, it comes back to my strategic decision but that's another topic.
Q. Policy in the immediate run-up to the 1997 election. First of all, Mr Campbell's diaries, page 10 of your bundle, the entry for 11 March 1997, where Mr Hall, then the editor of the News of the World, called to say there had been a sea change in Les Hinton's view: "There was definitely movement to us and their big fear was more unions than Europe but his view was Murdoch was definitely going to back us." Do you remember that sort of message being communicated to you?
A. I do actually remember Alastair telling me about his conversation with Phil Hall, yeah, which is not to say that he knew, by the way, Phil, I don't think, but you know, by then, by the way this is March 1997, I think.
Q. It is.
A. So by then, I think, I would have been surprised actually if they hadn't come out and backed us.
Q. Is the general point being made an accurate one, that their big fear was more unions than Europe?
A. I think probably that was true, actually. I mean, look, they'd been through all this Wapping business, so the unions weren't merely a theoretical issue; it was a major practical issue. He felt that to some extent, rightly, that if I hadn't been able to overcome that union opposition, he would never have been able to save the Times and operate in the country, so it was obviously going to be a big issue for them. But my position on the unions let me make it absolutely clear was because I believed in it. So we introduced a minimum wage, equal rights for part-time workers. We introduced statutory recognition. We were going to introduce individual rights, but I was determined and this was a matter of conviction, not because Rupert Murdoch or anyone else believed in it that we were not going to reverse the key principles of the Thatcher legislation, and I did that for reasons because I thought it was right.
Q. There's a later diary entry, page 11 of this bundle. We're a few days later, so I don't have the exact date, although we know the first piece in the Sun was 17 March 1997. Do you remember that one?
A. Yes.
Q. The second piece was 17 April 1997. At the top of our page 11, Mr Campbell notes that: "Meanwhile, I call Stuart Higgins as agreed and he said, clearly having spoken to Murdoch, that if we gave them a piece on Europe saying the kind of things TB had said last time they met, they'd put it on the front. I spoke to TB and after we chewed it over, we agreed to go for it. TB felt it could be the last thing needed to swing the Sun around." Pausing there, is that accurate or not?
A. Yeah, that's accurate.
Q. "We agreed it was important not to change in any sense the policy, but in turn to allow them to put over the message that TB was not some kind of caricature euro fanatic." So did you feel it was more a sense of rhetoric and tone than substance, or do you feel that the distinction between those two is sometimes a little bit difficult to see?
A. No, I think in this instance, it was very much on that basis. That's why I talk about the difference between managing them and conceding on policy. I didn't concede on policy at all. I remained, throughout my time as Prime Minister, pro-European. The fact is we had a commitment for a referendum. If we went I think it was for the single currency it was a referendum on the single currency was part of our five pledges, and it was important also, by the way, to counter the fact that people thought you might be just for some sort of European superstate or so on, which isn't my position. So this allowed us we were choosing the rhetoric carefully, but the substance no, we didn't change the substance of the policy, and I think in this instance, by the way, I think the distinction between the two is pretty clear.
Q. I think Mr Campbell told us that the commitment to referendum on the euro was not part of the five pledges but I think it was nonetheless Labour Party policy at this stage. But we can check his evidence on that.
A. I thought it was part of the five, but anyway. Okay, we should check it. (Interruption in proceedings) LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm sorry for that, Mr Blair. I'd like to find out how this gentleman managed to access the court through what is supposed to be a secure corridor. I'll have an investigation undertaken about that immediately. I apologise.
A. That's fine. Can I just say, actually, on the record, what he said about Iraq and JP Morgan is completely and totally untrue. I have never had a discussion with them about that or any relationship between them and Iraq. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You're entitled to say what you want, but you should not feel it necessary to answer somebody else's points.
A. No, I appreciate that, but part of the difficulty actually with modern politics and I say this not as a criticism of the media is that my experience of the reporting of these events is that you can have 1,000 people in a room and someone gets up and shouts or throws something. That's the news. The other 999 might as well not have bothered turning up. But anyway, we were back in MR JAY We were back in 1997.
A. Right.
Q. The line in the diaries, though, Mr Blair: "It was fantastically irritating on one level that we had to go through these kinds of routine, but with an election looming, we would be daft not to try it." Was part of the irritation a sense that you were having to tack perhaps a little bit too close to the wind in a way in which you would not otherwise have been minded to do?
A. You know, throughout you will find references to a level of discomfort or feeling, you know, uncomfortable about the fact that you had to make this persuasion a big part of what you were doing. But no, I don't I think we were on the right side of the line, and, you know, we this was something where, on many areas of policy, you might have an issue with particular papers and particular ways. What I was always anxious to do and by the way, by the end even more so than at the beginning was to make sure that what we did was to steer the right side of that line and never yield on the policy. So you know, my obviously, it's for others to judge on this, but I was very careful all the way through. I was not going to change policy because of this media power, but I did have to manage them.
Q. There's some evidence that after the election, you wrote a personal note to Mr Higgins, who was then editor of the Sun, saying, "You really did make a difference." Do you remember doing that?
A. I don't specifically, but it's perfectly possible I did, and, you know, frankly, it did make a difference.
Q. You feel it impacted on the scale of your majority or what?
A. I mean, again, I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with this. I thought it made a difference that the Financial Times supported us. What was one of the things I was trying to do? I was trying to move Labour to a position where it said, "We are not going to give any special favours to trade unions. We're a pro-business party as well as supporting individual rights for workers." The Financial Times, I think in 1992 they didn't support the Labour Party. Or maybe they did. I can't remember. Anyway, for me it was important to get them on board. So again, in that way, I don't think there was anything wrong in that or surprising. If a major newspaper comes on side, particularly one that's been hostile, I think it makes a difference. I don't think there's anything wrong in that per se.
Q. The support of the Financial Times, although no doubt important as a matter of perception, is unlikely to impact at all on anybody's voting habits, to put it bluntly. But weren't you saying in relation the Sun it made a difference because it might have impacted on the way they voted?
A. Of course. I mean, I think their support it's hard to quantify this, but of course their support would make a difference. Actually, one of my constant strategic discussions with my folk was I actually think it did make a difference for us, with voters, that business was a significant part of business was on side. I mean, I was the first Labour leader to be able to go to a launch of a manifesto and have a whole lot of business people sitting alongside us and I still believe, for people on my side of the political fence, that if you don't have substantial business support, it's hard to win the economic argument. So I think these things actually do have an impact, but anyway, that's my business, not yours.
Q. I've been asked to put to you some questions in relation to the issue of union reform. We saw that hinted at in one of the extracts I've recently drawn to your attention and the questions are these: did you reach an understanding with Rupert Murdoch, after you became leader of the Labour Party but before you became Prime Minister, that you would not repeal the constraints imposed on trade unions by the various Trade Unions Acts and associated legislation passed in the Thatcher area? And the quid pro quo, I suppose, is that his papers would endorse your election.
A. No, this was a position I took because I believed in it and actually it was completely consistent with the positions I'd taken when I was employment spokesman of the Labour Party.
Q. I put to Mr Murdoch a piece in the Times I think it was 31 March 1997 which indicated your position, but cause and effect here is completely disassociated; is that it?
A. Yeah, because my view was one of the essential things Labour had to do was it had to we were dogged throughout the '83, '87, 1992 elections with a position that said we were going to repeal all this Conservative legislation, which I thought was not simply foolish politically for us; I thought it was wrong. You know, I went through all those campaigns, and in the end I thought the closed shop, for example, was wrong as a matter of principle. I still do. I didn't need Rupert Murdoch or anyone else to tell me about that. Now, it's true that had we had a different position, then I think that would have been a big problem with their newspapers but we didn't take the position for that reason. It was a position I believed in and was for me a very, very important part of New Labour.
Q. And the subsidiary question I've been asked to put: was it not part of this agreement that whilst you insisted that a statutory recognition procedure should be introduced, he insisted that's Mr Murdoch that there should be a clause within it which specifically enabled the existence of a non-independent staff association like NISA to block an application for recognition by an independent trade union at a News International title?
A. No. So this was I understand why these sort of conspiracy theories arise but it's not as if my position on unions and so on was a matter of great surprise. It was actually, for me, a very, very strong article of belief. I think trade unions are a very important part of a modern democratic society, but you know, it's interesting, actually. Their argument through the 60s and the 70s and I grew up with this argument was that they should not be subject to legal constraint, you know, that this was an interference with the democratic principles of trade unionism. And as time went on, I just came to the view that you couldn't argue that. You know, they had power. They should be subject to some form of legal framework. So this was my view of this was because I genuinely believed these positions for the Labour Party should change and had to change.
Q. Lord Mandelson, in his evidence, drew a neat analogy between what he described as the powers of the unions of old and the modern power of the press. Do you see that as a neat analogy or as a mismatch?
A. I think some of the arguments are a little, to me, somewhat the same, in the sense that I remember at the time people used to argue, within the trade union movement, that just this whole concept that someone else could tell them, you know: "Here are certain standards" was wrong, so I suppose there was a certain reflection of that, but I suppose you can take that analogy too far quite quickly.
Q. Can I move on to the Prodi intervention in 1998. We've received already quite a lot of evidence about that. Can I throw into the melting pot another extract from Mr Mullins' diary, page 17 of our bundle.
A. Yes.
Q. We're in March 1998. Do you see the second paragraph there: "Murdoch came up again at the Parliamentary committee. The papers are full of stories alleged that the man [that's you, of course] has been ringing up the Italian Prime Minister on Murdoch's behalf. I asked, one, who initiated the call to Prodi, and two, what is our relationship with Murdoch? The man was visibly irritated. 'I don't reveal the content of private conversations,' he said, testily. I replied I just wanted to say who initiated it. He seemed to say it was Prodi, adding, 'The story in today's Telegraph is a load of balls.' Then he relaxed and said, 'My relationship with Murdoch is no different from that with any other newspaper proprietor. I love them all equally.' He said forcefully "
A. A touch of irony, I'd just like to emphasise in that one.
Q. I certainly detected the irony but whether I delivered it in quite the right tone, probably not, in my desire to maintain impartiality throughout. But in terms of the gist of your conversation with Mr Mullins, is this a fair account or not?
A. Yeah. I mean, again, I can't honestly remember this, but it probably sounds to me about right, and as I think I say in my statement the call was initiated from Romano Prodi, and basically I was raised the issue of the of whether the idea of having someone from the outside come and own part of Mediaset would be resented or not. He gave me an answer and I can't remember how it was relayed back, but I'm sure it was. But my point is I would have done that for anyone with substantial British interests. I would have done that if another media group had asked me to do it.
Q. Mr Campbell's account, his diary entry for 1 April 1998, page 19, the end of the first paragraph for that date: "TB said he didn't fear them coming at him about me but about the relationship with Murdoch and he didn't fancy a sustained set of questions about whether Murdoch lobbied him." Again, is that an accurate account by Mr Campbell of your then state of mind?
A. Yeah, because what you knew, as indeed turned out to be the case, is that what was an intervention, which I think was perfectly justified, that lasted about two minutes ended up occupying days and weeks of time.
Q. So is this your point: that this is an example of a conspiracy theory which really has developed like turvey(?) out of a story which had no validity?
A. Absolutely, and you know, as I said, when you come to how we decide media policy now, it's correct that what we decided not to do was to do a big media, you know, regulation and so on, but in respect of the specific issues that came up along the way, we decided as I say, I think more of them against than in favour. I say that in my statement and I wasn't saying whether it was a good idea he bought Mediaset or not. I mean, all I was doing was finding out whether a foreign owner would be welcome or not welcome.
Q. The answer, I think, was not welcome, and Mr Murdoch didn't press the matter at that point?
A. Yeah.
Q. Is that it?
A. Yeah. I don't think that's unreasonable for that to be asked or you know, as I say, if another media group had been interested in a possible acquisition, I would have done the same.
Q. Can I deal with perhaps an issue of more substance. The Human Rights Act, Mr Blair, which was one, I suppose, of the certainly the most significant achievements of your first term and one which you'd been committed to in opposition for some significant period of time, and so therefore a lot of time was devoted to it. Was it the position that News International I suppose together with everybody else were lobbying for complete press immunity from the Human Rights Act?
A. Yes, that's right. They wanted no suggestion that you would move outside the bounds of the PCC and self-regulation.
Q. And were you generally supportive of that position?
A. Yes, that was I mean, my my view was that if you were to deal with this, you had to deal with it head on, as it were, not through the Human Rights Act, which would be a sort of side way of dealing with it. Also, at that time, I think I'm right in saying it was Lord Wakeham who was head of the PCC, who was something actually I thought was doing quite a good job of that, and the PCC were pretty fierce on this, on behalf the whole of the media, really, not any one particular part of it.
Q. Was the position reached that following, if I can put it in these terms, pressure from Lord Irvine of course then your Lord Chancellor, who I think was responsible for piloting the act through Parliament generally, certainly of course through the Lords that he persuaded you that your position was incorrect and we ended up with a compromise, which we see in the form of Section 12 of the Act?
A. That's right.
Q. In terms, though, of what your position was, what was the problem in allowing a privacy law to develop incrementally through Article 8, which is what would have happened indeed has happened in any event with the introduction of the Act in the form in which we now see it?
A. As I say, I felt we should still be with the self-regulation argument, and I knew that we were going to have quite a big battle over it if we changed that position. In the end, we did come to a compromise, and I think that compromise was perfectly sensible, by the way. But at that time when were we there? 1998? You know, we'd taken a position in favour of self-regulation. That was the position. But I felt you know, Derry was making very strong arguments about this, felt very strongly about it, and had I absolutely felt very strongly about my position, I would have not wanted the compromise. But in the end I thought I listened to him and thought this is a way through this.
Q. Although the development of a privacy law through the gateway of Article 8 would be entirely consistent with self-regulation, wouldn't it?
A. Yeah. It's not what they at the time felt at the time. I mean, my recollection of this was that the PCC itself was really the lobbying organ on this one. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, what do you think about that? You may be right, but what do you think about the idea that the PCC is actually acting as a lobby
A. Yeah. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON rather than doing the job which might have been thought that it should be doing in the light of Calcutt, which was to provide a mechanism of redress?
A. That's a good point. I suppose, look, they felt you know, they were defending their own position as the custodians of press standards. But, yeah, I mean I think that's a perfectly reasonable point. MR JAY But your original position, in line with the press position, which would have placed the press, as it were, outside the Human Rights Act, would certainly have removed all the force of Article 8 and arguably would have given force for the common law position, which is reflected in Article 10. Why was there a policy issue here? Surely the position, particularly after Princess Diana's death and everything which existed at that stage, was that it was appropriate to have a system whereby Article 8 and Article 10 would be balanced and the privacy law would develop in that way, which is what has occurred.
A. Yes, absolutely, and look, that's the point that Derry made and very strongly and in the end prevailed. The alternative argument it was more a political argument. After events surrounding Princess Diana's death, there was actually a tougher attitude then taken, I think, by the PCC for a time and so on. I think people felt that Lord Wakeham was a more credible chairman of the PCC and all of that, but, you know, it was a political question. I'm not sure I devoted a vast amount of time to this one, but, no, the point you make is a perfectly reasonable one and probably if this thing had cropped up in 2006, not 1998, I would have gone along with the original compromise at the beginning.
Q. I move forward in time to 2001, and your second election victory. Mr Campbell's diaries again, page 20. The bottom of page 21. 30 October, so this must be the year 2000. The bottom of the page: "TB saw Murdoch and Irwin Stelzer (Murdoch adviser). He had asked them outright whether they were going to back us. Murdoch said the Tories were unelectable and that was that. TB seemed to take it as face value." Is this an accurate account or not?
A. Yes, I think that would be an accurate account.
Q. So we do have you asking a direct and explicit question of Mr Murdoch, and getting a blunt answer, don't we?
A. Yes. I mean, he wouldn't you know, I don't think it was you know, with other media people, I would have probably have also asked them what their attitude was going to be. Again, I don't see any they were going to make a decision about it, so why not ask them?
Q. Was this the only occasion in which you were so outright, to use Mr Campbell's phrase, with Mr Murdoch, or do you think there were others?
A. No, I think probably before the 2005 election I would have asked I don't actually recall that as well as I recall this, partly because Alastair's diary brings it all back, as it were, but I have no doubt I would have, in effect. Even if I didn't full on, I would have wanted to know what the situation is. But as I say, I don't think that's you know, I think I would have done that with any major group that I thought where there was a possibility of securing support.
Q. Obviously for many newspaper groups there's no point asking the question because you know what the answer's going to be.
A. Right.
Q. But it's just in the cases where they might be some doubt but
A. I mean, I can't recall ever doing this specifically with other groups, but, you know, there was a possibility, for example, the Guardian might have backed the Liberal Democrats, or the Financial Times might have backed someone else. I can't recall the precise conversations I had, but I don't I don't think there's anything wrong with asking them, you know, whether they're going to support you or not. What's obviously different is if you're conditioning that in some way.
Q. Mr Campbell gave evidence that over the period 2002/2003 this is tab 3 of the big file he gave his evidence on this point on 14 May. It's page 36 of the transcript.
A. Right. 36?
Q. Yes. I'm afraid there are two transcripts under tab 3. The one from 14 May is the one I invite to your attention.
A. Okay. Yes.
Q. He's suggesting that in or about 2002 there started to be internal discussions about putting the PCC on a statutory basis, creating a right of reply, et cetera. First of all, is he right about that?
A. Yes. There was a look, there was a big debate going on with the people around me, some of whom felt very strongly Jonathan was one, Alastair was another that we should take this issue on. I mean, I was reluctant, for the reasons I give. So I mean, he says here that he I think you're quoting from Jonathan Powell, aren't you?
Q. I am, yes.
A. Yes. Yeah. I mean, I remember that discussion taking place and I think some work was done on it, but I mean, this never got to the stage where I was anywhere near taking a different decision to the one I'd taken up then.
Q. I suppose you reached the point in your this was your second term. Some would say you were at the zenith of your power, really. Of course, the situation may or may not have changed later. It was the opportunity insofar as there ever was one. Is that fair or not?
A. Yes. Look, some people say, "You could have done it straight after 1997. You'd just won this landslide victory. That would have been a chance." And some people say, "After everything that happened after the death of Princess Diana, that would have been the chance." Some people say, "After the 2001 election, you'd won a big majority, that would have been the chance." The decision I took, rightly or wrongly, as I say, was there was never going to be a moment when this was not going to have to squeeze out the rest of the government agenda, and, you know, however supportive they seemed or however powerful I seemed, this was going to flip like that the moment you put such an issue centre stage. You see the degree of focus on this Inquiry now, so, you know, if you'd been the government of the day and said, "I'm going to legislate on this", and royal commissions and all the rest of it, I think it would have been a anyway, that's the decision I took. We were, by then, in my second term, really starting to move forward on reform in public services. Academy schools were being introduced and competition within the health service. We were really getting things changing major law and order legislation. Later, we had legislation on terror and so on. I never felt that I could risk putting all of that to one side to fight this. Now, that's the political judgment, in a way, that you have to make. So some people would say to me and some did say, "Look, you can do this along with everything else", and I used to say to them: "You're being completely unrealistic about this." You take this issue on as Prime Minister and you're the Prime Minister. You're the person they think they're holding to account, so in some ways you're the worst person to initiate this debate, because they say, "You're parti pris. You want to control us and put us into a straitjacket." So I never felt that I could take a different strategic decision and I think, as I say, it's only because of this and because of what has happened that you're in a position where a Prime Minister could and indeed should. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But Mr Cameron may say it's rather easy for you or the other party to say, "Now is the time for the Prime Minister to grasp the nettle." I've become rather depressed as I've listened to you. Do you think it's different now?
A. Um yes. I think it is, actually. I think what has happened this is what sometimes happens in life, never mind politics, is that something people have known needs to be sorted out, suddenly the circumstances become such that people say, "Right, it's got to be sorted out." I think what you do about it is very difficult. I don't think it's so difficult in relation to these, you know, appalling abuses and so on. I think what's the political aspect of this is quite difficult, for reasons we can go into, but I think you can get a political consensus today and keep it, and I think there's a lot of responsibility on the rest of us, by the way. If the Prime Minister is now faced with decisions arising out of your report, it's really important people don't play politics with that, because my anxiety there was never anything of this nature that came up in this way. My anxiety, frankly, about the strategic risks of going down this path was I could see a situation where the opposition would immediately be going to the media and saying, "I don't know why he's doing this." Even people within your own party, even within your own Cabinet, would say, "He's gone crazy now. He's trying to take on the My actual view was it was not possible. I do think, though, what is very unfair would be to leave this Prime Minister in and I'm trying to work out how, if I were him, I would deal with it, and I think if there are reasonable recommendations that come out, and we can come on to some of the things that those might be, I think it's very important that he is not left with a position where he's politically exposed on this, because that is not fair to him, because we should be under no doubt at all that this is going to be extremely difficult, but actually, no, on balance, I think it can be done and it should be done now. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Right. MR JAY 2003 now, Mr Blair. The Communications Act.
A. Mm.
Q. Took some time to pass through Parliament. It's an act of some complexity and Tessa Jowell told us all about it. She also said in her evidence under tab 6 within a couple of days of being appointed this is one of the pressing issues and then she saw you, had a conversation which was, she said, I think necessary, and she asked you directly whether or not any deal had been done with Rupert Murdoch on the reform of the cross-media ownership rules: "And he gave me an absolute assurance, which I completely accepted, that there had been no prior agreement." First of all, is her evidence accurate on that point?
A. Yes, that's correct.
Q. Were you surprised that she asked you that question?
A. Not particularly. I mean, you know, we're talking 2002, are we, around about? Yeah. By then, this issue to do with me and Rupert Murdoch and so on, so it didn't surprise me that she asked that question.
Q. In terms of the substance of the matter, though, do you feel that the Communications Act reflected in any way an implied deal with Mr Murdoch or not?
A. No, absolutely not. For a start, the thing that we did which was boost Ofcom is a thing that he absolutely disliked. And contrary to what's often written about this, Channel 5 was not his I mean, I never thought he was (inaudible) Channel 5. Channel 3 would have been a far better fit for him, and that he was unable to do. I mean, my thing within this Communications Act because I did talk to the ministers about it several times, my thing was very much to do with trying to open up the media ownership thing. I mean, this issue to do with media ownership, I have a view on this that is different from many people who worry about media power, and there are two elements of this. Sometimes people worry about concentration of media ownership, sometimes people worry about foreign owners coming into the British media space. I thought the first was always best dealt with as a competition issue, and I thought the second I just disagreed with people, that if you said, "Okay", to any foreign owner, you have to now put all the media in British hands, I wasn't ever sure that was going to produce a different situation. And I actually remember during the course of this piece of legislation, I actually wanted to see if there were major media companies, I mean people the Time Warners of this world, Viacom, I think, Axel Springer, other big organisations that if you had a more open media policy would be prepared to come in, because what concerned me always was that you needed it wasn't necessary just to have other media ownerships, it was necessary to have other media owners with heft, with the ability to put major investment in, and frankly with the type of global media position that I could see the world moving to. Some people took a different view from me. I had no belief that if you turned bits of the media over to British as opposed to foreign owners you were going to necessarily get a fairer crack of the whip.
Q. Okay. The last point is the 2004 referendum on the European constitution. We've covered, of course, with Mr Straw and with Lord Mandelson, but the position from their evidence is really that had nothing much to do with the position of the Murdoch press. Is that right or not?
A. Yes. It wasn't, by the way, the Murdoch press's position. I think the majority of the media would have been in favour of a referendum on the constitution. I didn't want to do it, by the way, but as I think I say in my statement, Jack Straw in the end wrote me a memo saying, "It's going to happen, so do you want it to happen to you or take the initiative?" and his advice very strongly, and I thought rightly in the end, was to take the initiative.
Q. Okay. I'm sure you would want to the draw express attention, Mr Blair, to 05575, under the rubric, "Particular questions", where you collect together six examples that the government turned down the positions, as you say, of the Murdoch media. You start off with the Man U bid, then BBC, new channels, the increase in the licence fee, greater powers to Ofcom, ITV and listed events for sport, and you say that's clear evidence of the absence of any sort of express deal?
A. Yes. We were I feel on very, very strong ground on this. When it came as opposed to the more general issue to do with the media and regulation and so on, when it came to the specifics, yeah, I think it's very, very clear and the 2003 Communications Act is an example of that. And, you know, the strongest lobbying I remember getting from media organisations during my time was actually the BBC over the licence fee, and by the way we supported and I continue to think that a strong BBC is a very important part of our democracy, even though obviously, particularly over Iraq, we had a severe falling out with them. But none of these things were things they liked or wanted. That's why I don't you know, I think although the commercial interests of these organisations are obviously always important, I do say in my statement I think looking at their influence solely through that paradigm, I think, is a mistake.
Q. Can I put to you a contrary view from Mr Price, which is under tab 42.
A. Mm.
Q. I don't think this is in the context of an express deal, but it might be of implied deal. This is in the second file we've prepared for you, a piece he wrote in the Guardian on 1 July 2006, headed: "Rupert Murdoch is effectively a member of Blair's Cabinet." First of all, can we be clear, Mr Price worked for you from 1998 to 2000 and not sure exactly when, but can you help us?
A. I think Lance Price was, first of all, a Labour Party press officer and he came into Downing Street for a time, at least.
Q. For about how many years was he there, can you help?
A. I can't, but I can find out exactly.
Q. He says in the fourth paragraph, beginning: "In my spin doctoring days Do you have that one?
A. Yes.
Q. The second sentence: "It's true that Rupert Murdoch doesn't leave a paper trail that could ever prove his influence over but the trail of politicians beating their way to him and his papers tells a different story." I think he's asking one there to draw reasonable and sensible inferences from conduct. Would you agree?
A. Yeah, he is, but I notice that he there isn't I don't know that policy that we changed as a result of Rupert Murdoch. By that, am I saying he's not a powerful figure in the media? Well, no, of course he is, and of course you're aware of what his views are, and that's why I say part of my job was to manage this situation so that you didn't get into a situation where you were shifting policy. And on Europe, which is the only example he gives, I would say very strongly we maintained the position that I believed in in Europe, and that was a position the Sun and the News of the World frequently disagreed with me on. I remember that headline they did once, I think, was I the "most dangerous man in the world" or something, so this is this is not it's to misdescribe the issue, actually.
Q. Then he says a bit later down: "I've never met Mr Murdoch, but at times when I worked at Downing Street, he seemed like the 24th member of the Cabinet. His voice was rarely heard, but then the same could have been said of many of the other 23, but his presence was always felt." Well, what do you make of that?
A. Look, also in respect of policy, by the way, I should say the whole if you look at the policies that Rupert Murdoch or indeed anybody else was concerned about, they fitted into certain categories. Europe was obviously that was probably the major thing he and I used to row about, actually, and debate, but sometimes what people wouldn't accept from the Labour Party perspective was things like public service reform or trade union reform, for example, I didn't our views may have coincided, but I believed in what I was doing. I didn't need him or anyone else to tell me what to do. So I think this is you know, it's
Q. He says when he submitted his book, "The Spin Doctor's Diary" to the Cabinet Office, your staff were deeply unhappy: "No fewer than a third of their reactions related to one man; not Tony Blair or even Gordon Brown, as might have been expected, but Rupert Murdoch." Do you remember that?
A. I don't, frankly. Actually, by the way, it says apparently he was here from 1998 to 2001, I see down at the bottom.
Q. Thank you. The final point: "In my first few weeks as Alastair Campbell's deputy [so that's in 1998] I was told by somebody who would know that we'd assured Mr Murdoch we wouldn't change policy on Europe without talking to him first." Was that assurance given?
A. No. We would never have given an assurance to Murdoch or anybody else that we were not going to change policy without seeking some sort of permission. That's absurd. However, having said that, I mean, if we were about to engage in a major change of policy on an issue that mattered to any particular media group, we would probably have tried to prepare the way for it, but I mean that, again, I think, is perfectly sensible and there's nothing wrong with that. You see, the thing that's important to realise about this is, of course, you were aware that he, and indeed other papers, had very strong stances on issues, and again I think it's important that this is not simply located with the Murdoch media and nobody else. So we realised the Guardian would have very strong issues on certain things, and the Mirror, for example, and obviously the Mail group and so on, the Telegraph. But would we interact with them in order to try and, if we thought they might be opposed, soften that opposition, say, "Look, I think you should be aware of X, Y and Z, so when you're writing about it, you should realise this is our argument"? Of course we would. I don't think you're going to stop that, and even if you don't do it from the official organs of government, if you're a Cabinet member about to take through a difficult piece of legislation, you're going to speak to many, many different media outlets to try and get your point of view across. That won't just be by formal interviews, you'll briefing them, you'll have in the main political correspondents and say, "Look, this is what I'm trying to do, this is why I'm trying to do it." I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I think that's a perfectly healthy interaction with the media, and (b), I think it's absolutely inevitable. That is a completely different thing from saying, you know, "You have a veto over policy", and by the way, if we I mean, the most obvious case I gave you earlier is the EU rebate, when there were vitriolic editorials written about my position on a whole series of things to do with that, and we did the budget deal with literally not I doubt we got any part of the media on board for that, and that was a big deal. We did it and we did it irrespective of what the Murdoch media or anybody else said because I thought it was the right thing to do for the country. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON All right. That's probably a convenient moment. We'll resume at 2 o'clock, if that's all right, Mr Blair. Thank you very much indeed.
A. Thank you. (1.00 pm)


Gave statements at the hearings on 28 May 2012 (AM) and 28 May 2012 (PM) ; and submitted 4 pieces of evidence


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