Over the past two days there has been evidence from senior politicians from both the Labour and Conservative parties at the Leveson Enquiry.
Two former Prime Ministers have now explicitly contradicted statements made by Rupert Murdoch during his sworn testimony in April.
On Monday the former Labour Chancellor and Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave evidence of false statements by Murdoch. In April Murdoch testified that:
he stood by "every word" of an account he had given of a phone call between himself and Brown in the autumn of 2009, in which the media mogul said the then prime minister pledged to "declare war" on News Corp. At that time Murdoch said, of Brown, "I don't think he was in a very balanced state of mind"Brown presented schedules of the phone calls made between himself and Murdoch. All such contacts, even those to mobile phones, were passed through the Downing Street switchboard so these official records are strong evidence. Brown gave evidence that the only autumn conversation, on November at 12.33 p.m., concerned Afghanistan.
However, the former prime minister said that there had been no such call on or close to 30 September 2009, as Murdoch had previously suggested, the day the tabloid announced its backing for the Conservatives at the forthcoming general election.One of Murdoch's no doubt hugely paid minions at the enquiry, Rhodri Davies challenged Brown on behalf of News International. Brown responded robustly:
Brown said that "this is the conversation that Mr Murdoch says happened", during which "I threatened him and where I'm alleged to have acted in an unbalanced way". "This conversation never took place," he added.
"News International have produced not one shred of evidence that a call took place, not one date for the call or time for the call. You're not able to tell us what happened except you have these statements from Mr Murdoch that this happened, and I do find it very strange that we're being asked to debate a call which never took place, for which you have no information about when it took place."Murdoch's suggestion that Brown was unstable fitted in with reports in September 2009 concerning his mental health:
Several major blogs and broadsheet columnists of all stripes have gone public with the allegation that Gordon Brown is taking “heavy duty antidepressants known as MAOIs (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors)”. This rumour, along with what Guido [Fawkes' blog] reminds us are “the stories of rages, flying Nokias, smashed laser printers, tables kicked over and crying Downing Street secretaries subjected to foul-mouthed tirades”, have led many in the national press to suggest or imply that Brown’s leadership is inherently undermined by his alleged mental health difficulties, as well as by the medication he supposedly takes for those difficulties.Maybe alarm bells should have been rung when you compare Murdoch's claim to the known, recorded statement by the current Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) Secretary, Vince Cable, from Daily Telegraph sources immediately before Cable was relieved of the role of reviewing Murdoch's full takeover bid for BSkyB.
“You may wonder what is happening with the Murdoch press”, Mr Cable said. “I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we’re going to win”.[Cue background music]
The question therefore arises whether the aging Murdoch was conflating two events or whether he was lying and the remark was a carefully scripted aside designed to add credibility.
The matter might have been dismissed as differences between two grumpy old men were it not for the testimony of former Conservative PM, Sir John Major today. (Full disclosure, I went to the same secondary school as Major but a few years after.) Major's evidence, in the words that the BBC are currently using, "does not fit comfortably" with another statement made by Murdoch in April.
"I have never asked a prime minister for anything."Major testified that he and Murdoch had a dinner on February 2, 1997 shortly before the Sun changed is support to Labour for the election that year which Labour won.
"He wished me to change our European policies. If we couldn't change our European policies his papers could not and would not support the Conservative government."Murdoch's problem is that we now have two previous holders of the most senior political posts in the country contradicting evidence that he gave under oath. Now these may not be deliberate falsehoods. A more compassionate view might be that one cannot expect an 81 year old to have an accurate memory. How far either questions his suitablility to run a huge media conglomerate or to be a "fit and proper person" to have de facto control of BSkyB even with News Corp's current minority shareholding is of course up to the shareholders and OfCom.
But the former PM, who told the inquiry he met Mr Murdoch three times in seven years, said: "There was no question of me changing our policies."
He said the discussion was one he was unlikely to forget. "It is not often someone sits in front of a prime minister and says to a prime minister 'I would like you to change your policy or my organisation cannot support you'," Sir John added.