Murdoch's U.K. chief to Cameron: 'We're in this together'
British Prime Minister David Cameron. (Mario Mitsis/WENN.com)
LONDON - Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper chief told David Cameron the night before a crucial political speech in 2009 that they were “professionally in this together”, an inquiry revealed on Thursday, embarrassing the man who now governs Britain.
A text message to Cameron, then in opposition, from Rebekah Brooks, then the head of Murdoch’s British newspapers, was read out to the prime minister on live television during a grilling about his ties to the tycoon’s News Corp.
“I am so rooting for you tomorrow not just as a personal friend but because professionally we’re definitely in this together. Speech of your life? Yes he Cam!” Brooks told Cameron in that message the night before his speech to the Conservative Party’s annual conference.
Testifying under oath at the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics, Cameron said Brooks had merely meant that they had a common interest because her Sun newspaper had come out in support of the Conservative Party ahead of the 2010 election.
But the message makes excruciating reading for Cameron as “We’re all in this together” was the Conservatives’ campaign slogan for that election. It was meant to present the party as inclusive and caring, but the Brooks message instead reinforces the perception of a party in thrall to a powerful media clique.
“Yes he Cam” was the Sun’s headline the day after he made the 2009 speech, suggesting Brooks had decided how the newspaper would react to the speech before it was made.
Brooks quit her News Corp job last year over phone-hacking by reporters on her watch and has since been charged with perverting the course of justice for allegedly hiding evidence.
Cameron ordered the Leveson Inquiry last year at a time when he was under pressure to crack down on Murdoch’s papers because of the revelation that reporters at the News of the World tabloid had hacked into the phone of a murdered schoolgirl.
But if Cameron had hoped the inquiry might neuter the hacking scandal, it has done the opposite by producing evidence that has raised doubts about his own judgment and caused a rift with his Liberal Democrat coalition partners.
These problems have absorbed his time and energy at a time when he is also grappling with a recession, unpopular public spending cuts and the euro zone crisis. On Thursday, he spent five hours answering questions at Leveson.
The inquiry has shown generations of politicians from both of Britain’s main parties, Labour and the Conservatives, have fawned over Murdoch and people close to him.
Cameron used to sign his frequent text messages to Brooks with an affectionate “LOL”, which he thought stood for “lots of love”, according to Brooks’s own testimony at Leveson, but his two Labour predecessors courted her just as assiduously.
Tony Blair had several private dinners with her and sent her friendly text messages, while during Gordon Brown’s time as prime minister, his wife Sarah invited Brooks to “sleepover parties” at Brown’s official weekend retreat.
Cameron repeatedly pointed the finger at Labour during his testimony. He dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” an accusation by Brown that the Conservatives had discreetly championed Murdoch’s interests in return for support from his newspapers.
“Not only was there no covert deal, there was no overt deal, and there wasn’t ‘nods and winks’,” Cameron said, jabbing his hand forward to emphasise the point.
He rejected the suggestion that while there may have been no explicit deal, there was an unspoken and mutually beneficial agreement between his party and the Murdoch press.
“We do slightly get into sort of witchcraft trials. How do you possibly prove that you’re innocent on that basis?” he said.
WEEKENDS IN THE COUNTRY
Cameron spoke fluently but looked tense at the inquiry. He frowned in concentration as he listened to questions from lawyer Robert Jay, in contrast to his usually relaxed manner.
But his efforts were undermined when Jay read out the 2009 text message from Brooks, which referred to a problem Cameron had at the time with another Murdoch paper and suggested that he and Brooks should discuss the matter “over country supper”.
The phrase is embarrassing for Cameron, who used to socialise with Brooks and other rich and powerful people connected to Murdoch during weekends at their respective mansions in a picturesque corner of the Oxfordshire countryside.
Cameron squirmed as Jay pressed him to say how often he used to meet up with Brooks in the country.
“Not every weekend ... I’d have to check. I might be able to go back and check. But I don’t think every weekend. I don’t think most weekends. But it would depend.”
For British voters, talk of meetings “over country supper“ only reinforces Cameron’s image as a man of wealth and privilege who has little understanding of ordinary people’s lives - an image he has tried hard to counteract, downplaying his elite upbringing at Eton, an expensive boarding school.
Cameron testifies over Murdoch links
Prime Minister David Cameron appeared before an inquiry into British media standards on Thursday.
Following are key remarks by Cameron at the inquiry led by Judge Brian Leveson.
ON TEXT MESSAGE SENT BY BROOKS
Lead counsel Robert Jay said Rebekah Brooks sent a text message to Cameron on Oct. 7, 2009, on the eve of Cameron’s speech to the Conservative Party conference. In the text message, released by News International and read out by Jay at the inquiry, Brooks wrote:
“But seriously ... I do understand the issue with the Times. Let’s discuss over country supper soon. On the party it was because I had asked a number of NI (News International) people to Manchester post endorsement and they were disappointed not to see you. But as always Sam was wonderful (and I thought it was OE’s (Old Etonians) were charm personfied?) I am so rooting for you tomorrow not just as a personal friend but because professionally we’re definitely in this together. Speech of your life? Yes he Cam!”
In response, Cameron said the “professionally in it together” remark referred to the Sun’s support for the Tories. He agreed the “country supper” reference did describe the sort of interaction they had.)
ON NEW LABOUR
I’m not trying to blame the whole thing on New Labour. I think that would be wrong. But I think it’s been a developing story. You’ve got the Conservative government under John Major, who knew there was a problem ...
Then you had the arrival of New Labour and I think the combination of that with the 24-hour news agenda is what lies behind some of the problems.
ON MEETINGS WITH MURDOCH’S INNER CIRCLE
Lead counsel Robert Jay: We’ve identified for Mr Rupert Murdoch 10 entries, Mr James Murdoch 15, for Rebekah Brooks 19, In relation to her, does that cover all social interactions or not?
Cameron: This is for the period for when I was in opposition, yes.
ON SEPTEMBER 2009 MEETING WITH JAMES MURDOCH
It was a drink and a catch-up but he wanted to tell me the Sun was going to support the Conservatives. He told me I think it was going to happen around the time of the Labour conference. I was obviously pleased that the Conservative party was going to get the Sun’s support.
ON MEDIA INDUSTRY DEALINGS
The idea of overt deals is nonsense. I also don’t believe in this theory that was sort of a nod and wink and some sort of covert agreement.
Of course I wanted to win over newspapers ... I worked very hard at that because I wanted to communicate what the Conservative Party and my leadership could bring to the country.
But I didn’t do it on the basis of saying that either overtly or covertly your support will mean that I will give you a better time on this policy or that policy. ...
Not only was there no covert deal, there as no overt deal and there wasn’t nods and winks. Policies that I produced that I’m very proud of came from our beliefs, values, my history, my beliefs and they weren’t dictated by anyone else. ...
We do slightly get into witchcraft trials - how do you possibly prove that you’re innocent?
ON RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN POLITICIANS AND THE PRESS
Part of my evidence ... is to say that I think this relationship has been going wrong for, you know, it’s never been perfect. There have always been problems. You can point to examples of (former Prime Minister Winston) Churchill putting (press tycoon) Beaverbrook as a minister, so this is, there have been issues for years.
But I think (in) the last 20 years the relationship has not been right, I think it has been too close, as I explained in my evidence. And I think we need to try and get it on a better footing.
I don’t think the regulatory system we have at the moment works, and so we need to improve it.
ON RELATIONSHIP WITH REBEKAH BROOKS
I think she was pretty friendly with all of them. I remember some strong arguments when I would be berating the government and all its works, and she would be standing up putting vigorously for Gordon Brown. ...
(How often did they speak in the period 2006/7?) Not necessarily every week.
As we got closer to the election and the decision of the Sun and also the wedding and she’s moved into Charlie Brooks’s house which is very near where we live in the constituency, then the level of contact went up.
(Later Jay asked: “When you were in your constituency at weekends, did you see her every weekend or most weekends in the period 2008-2009?” Cameron replied: “Not every weekend ... In 2008-2009? I’d have to check. I might be able to go back and check. But I don’t think every weekend. I don’t think most weekends. But it would depend.”)
ON FORMER PRIME MINISTER GORDON BROWN
(During his own Leveson testimony, Brown accused the Conservatives of espousing James Murdoch’s anti-BBC stance. In response, Cameron said the following.)
To respond generally, frankly, it is absolute nonsense, from start to finish. I think where it comes from is obviously Gordon Brown was angry and disappointed that The Sun had deserted him, and as a result, in my view, he has cooked up an entirely specious and unjustified conspiracy theory to try to, I don’t know, to justify his anger.
ON MEDIA SCRUTINY OF POLITICIANS
Sometimes it feels as if the volume button is being turned up unnecessarily.
ON PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JOURNALISTS
You have to take care but I think it can be done and I think that I’ve done that.
ON ANDY COULSON, FORMER NEWS OF THE WORLD EDITOR
I raised the issue of phone hacking and sought the assurance in the face to face meeting we had in my office. I knew it was very important, I knew I needed to ask him that question, and therefore did so.
I did specifically ask him about allegations in the hacking case. That is my recollection of the face to face meeting. ... The key thing is, I asked for assurances, I got them, and that was the basis on which I employed him. I was giving him a second chance. ...
He had done, as far as I could see it at the time, the honourable thing. Something very bad had happened at the newspaper he was editing, he did not know, and he resigned. And so I felt, given the assurances he gave me, that it was legitimate to give him a second chance.
(Reporting by Li-mei Hoang, Steve Addison, Georgina Prodhan, Estelle Shirbon, Michael Holden and Maria Golovnina)