Alex Salmond: News Corp lobbyist?

The Michel emails suggest Salmond acted as News Corp's political champion.

Jeremy Hunt wasn't the only political cheerleader News Corporation enjoyed the services of. The full emails of the company's public affairs director Frederic Michel, now available on the Leveson inquiry website, reveal the extraordinary lengths that Alex Salmond went to to support the BSkyB bid. According to Michel, the Scottish First Minister offered to lobby both Vince Cable and Jeremy Hunt on the company's behalf and to brief the Scottish press on the "economic importance" of News Corp for the country. All of which goes some way to explaining Rupert Murdoch's recent description of Salmond as the "most brilliant politician in U.K.".

Below are the full, damning emails.

On 1 November 2010, Michel told James Murdoch:

Alex Salmond is very keen to put these issues across to Cable and have a call with you tomorrow or Wednesday. His team will also brief the Scottish press on the economic importance of News Corp for Scotland.

Following a conversation with Rupert Harrison, George Osborne's special adviser, on 9 November 2010, Michel reported to Murdoch:

He (Harrison) was very much taken by our commitment to Scotland and Alex Salmond's desire to support us. He thought it was a strong ally to put forward, very contrarian/unexpected.

On 11 February 2011, Michel told James Murdoch:

I met with Alex Salmond's adviser today. He will call Hunt whenever we need him to.

Finally, on 2 March 2011, Michel wrote to Murdoch:

Alex Salmond called. He had a very good dinner with the Editor of Sun in Scotland yesterday.

The Sun is now keen to back the SNP at the election. The Editor will make his pitch to the Editorial team tomorrow. 

On the Sky bid, he will make himself available to support the debate if consultation is launched (emphasis mine).

News Corporation head Rupert Murdoch with Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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