RUPERT Murdoch was questioned at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday about meetings held with prime minister Cameron before and after News Corporation’s June 2010 takeover bid for BSkyB.
‘Why was the bid announced one month after the election? It’s pure coincidence that it’s a month after the general election, is that right?’ Council Robert Jay QC asked Murdoch ironically.
‘Yes,’ Murdoch replied.
Regarding a meeting with Cameron at 10 Downing St one week after the May 2010 election, Jay questioned why he went through the back door, to which Murdoch replied there was no other reason than that it was more convenient.
Murdoch repeatedly claimed he had never asked a prime minister for anything.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s special adviser, Adam Smith, quit yesterday.
At prime minister’s Questions, Labour leader Miliband demanded Hunt be sacked, accusing him of ‘colluding with News Corporation to provide them with information in advance’ and ‘hatching a plan’ to make sure it would be ‘game over’ on the BSkyB takeover bid.
Miliband said if Cameron ‘can’t defend the conduct of his own ministers, his ministers should be out of the door, he should fire them’.
But Cameron said Hunt ‘has my full support for the excellent job that he does’.
Miliband said there was a ‘shadow of sleaze’ over the government and accused Cameron of ‘putting his cronies before the interests of the country’.
Tom Watson MP asked Hunt: ‘Is the secretary of state seriously trying to convince the nation that these incriminating emails and texts are all the work of a single rogue advisor?’
Dennis Skinner MP said: ‘Doesn’t all this prove the theory that when posh boys are in trouble they sack the servants. Why doesn’t he do the decent thing and tell dodgy Dave he’s resigning.’
Miliband said: ‘It’s a culture with this prime minister – Andy Coulson, Rebeccah Brooks, the Culture Secretary – when is he going to stop putting the interests of his cronies first?’
At the Leveson Inquiry, Jay asked Murdoch about a lunch with then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher at Chequers on January 4 1981, at which he discussed his plans to buy The Times and The Sunday Times.
Jay asked him: ‘Were you seeking to demonstrate to her that you were the right man to acquire these great papers because you had the qualities and charisma to take the papers forward, and, equally importantly, you had the will to crush the unions?’
Murdoch replied: ‘No, I didn’t have the will to crush the unions. I might have had the desire, but that took several years.’
Murdoch claimed to Jay that he could not remember telling former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil, after the newspaper decided to support Michael Heseltine over her in 1991: ‘We owe Thatcher a lot as a company, don’t go overboard in your attacks on her.’
Murdoch said he had frequently met Tony Blair when he was prime minister and said he regarded Blair as a personal friend.
He said: ‘Mr Blair did not expressly request our support in 1995, 1997 or any other election, but he was a politician and I had no doubt that he would welcome the support of our newspapers and our readers.’
Murdoch was asked about a conversation with former prime minister Brown after the Sun moved to back the Conservative Party in 2009.
Murdoch claimed Gordon Brown was not in a ‘balanced state of mind’ when he declared war on his company.
He quoted Brown as saying: ‘Well, your company has declared war on my government and we have no alternative but to make war on your company.’