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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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era