Tony Blair has told the Leveson inquiry that Rupert Murdoch did not lobby him directly over media policy when he was prime minister and highlighted examples where his government had gone against the News Corporation founder’s wishes.
Blair said on Monday that he and Murdoch had “a working relationship until after I left office”. After this they became closer and Blair was godfather to Murdoch’s daughter Grace, he added.
He told Lord Justice Leveson that Murdoch “didn’t lobby me on media stuff”, but said that was “not to say we weren’t aware of the positions their companies had”, in particular his strong views in opposition to European integration.
But he said on regulatory matters affecting Murdoch’s business directly, “we decided more often against than in favour”.
Lance Price, former Labour and No 10 press officer, had previously described Murdoch as the “24th member of the cabinet”.
Blair said: “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 the situation so that you didn’t get into a situation where you were shifting policy.
“I would say very strongly we managed the position that I believed in on Europe and that was a position the Sun and the News of the World frequently disagreed with me on.”
On his relationship with Murdoch, Blair said: “Europe was the major thing that he and I used to row about. I believed in what I was doing, I didn’t need him or anyone else to tell me what to do.”
Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, said Price had also said he had been told Blair would never change policy on Europe without talking to Murdoch first.
He replied: “No we would never have given an assurance to Mr Murdoch or anybody else that we were not going to change policy without seeking their permission. That’s absurd.
“Having said that, 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 think that is perfectly sensible and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Blair also said that his relationship with Murdoch changed after he stepped down as prime minister in 2007. “So I know there has been all this stuff about me being godfather of one of his children. I would never have become a godfather of his children on the basis of my relationship in office. After I left, I got to know him and his family and the relationship can be easier and better,” he said.
Read more at the Guardian…