Tony Blair’s appearance at Leveson: 10 key points

The former PM on media regulation, his relationship with Murdoch and the Daily Mail.

1. Blair denies ever doing a deal with Rupert Murdoch

Asked whether he knew anything of a supposed deal between Murdoch and David Cameron, Blair said he had “no knowledge” of such a deal. He added: "All I can say is Murdoch never made such an approach to me.”

2. Blair says that Murdoch did not lobby him on media policy

The former prime minister said that Murdoch “didn’t lobby me on media stuff” but said that this was “not to say we weren’t aware of the positions their companies had”. These included strong views against European integration. He added that on regulatory matters that had a direct impact on Murdoch’s business, “we decided more often against than in favour”. He added:

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.

3. He and Murdoch clashed over Europe. . .

This has already been widely reported, but Blair stressed that he and Murdoch disagreed over Europe. He 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.

As evidence that he had not changed policy for Murdoch, he said:

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.

4. . . But agree on many other things

Blair stressed that on public service reform and trade unions, he and Murdoch happened to agree:

Our views may have coincided. But I believed what I was doing. I did not need him to tell me what to do.

5. Blair sent Rebekah Brooks a supportive message after she resigned

The former prime minister revealed that he sent a sympathetic text message to the former News International chief executive after she was forced to step down last year over phone hacking allegations. He told the inquiry: "I'm somebody who does not believe in being a fairweather friend”. He said that he did not know the facts, but that he felt sorry for Brooks. "I have seen people go through these situations, and I know what it's like”.

6. Murdoch and Blair are closer now than when he was in office

Blair confirmed that he is the godfather of Murdoch’s daughter for the first time (even though the story broke some months ago). He said that while he was in office, he had a “working relationship” with Murdoch, but now it was “completely different”:

I would not have been godfather to one of his children on the basis of my relationship in office. After I left office I got to know him. Now it's different. It's not the same.

He spoke warmly about his friend, saying that the media baron was “not a tribal Tory” who had certain views that were “very anti-establishment”.

7. He does not regret New Labour’s media obsession

Though his government has been demonised and caricatured for it’s obsessive chasing of positive headlines, Blair said that he has no regrets. Stressing the immense power of the press – across the board, not just limited to the Murdochs’ businesses – he said that implementing reform would have derailed his entire policy agenda.

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. Although I think this is an immensely important question, I don't in the end, not for me, at any rate, as prime minister, was it more important than the health service, or schools or law and order.

8. Anti-war protesters look set to follow Blair wherever he goes

As I reported earlier, a man interrupted the morning proceedings to shout “this man is a war criminal”.

9.Blair denies ever briefing against colleagues

In what some have interpreted as a veiled comment on Gordon Brown, Blair said twice that he never asked the Sun to attack his enemies:

I did never and would never have asked her or others to conduct attacks on specific individual ... I absolutely hate that type of politics.

He specifically denied claims that No 10 briefed against Mo Mowlam.

10. Blair hates the Daily Mail

While he defended the Murdoch press, Blair had strong words about the Daily Mail:

If you fall out with the controlling element of the Daily Mail, you are then going to be subject to a huge and sustained attack. So, the Daily Mail for me - it attacked me, my family, my children, those people associated with me - day in, day out. Not merely when I was in office. And they do it very well, very effectively. And it's very powerful.

He said that the paper had a “personal vendetta” against his wife Cherie, and that her solicitors sent at least 30 legal warnings to the newspaper between mid-2006 and November 2011.
 

Tony Blair leaves the Royal Courts of Justice. Photograph: Getty Images

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.