Murdoch: I did discuss BSkyB bid with Cameron

Murdoch's revelation contradicts Cameron's previous claims.

David Cameron has always denied discussing the BSkyB bid with James Murdoch but in his testimony to the Leveson inquiry, Murdoch has just revealed that the bid was raised at the famous Christmas dinner at Rebekah Brooks's home.

He told the inquiry that Cameron reiterated that Vince Cable's behaviour had been "unacceptable" (Murdoch contemptuously referred to Cable as having shown "acute bias"), adding:

I imagine I expressed the hope that things would be dealt with in way that was appropriate and judicial. It was a tiny side conversation, it was not a discussion.

His witness statement to the inquiry goes into more detail:

I recall speaking briefly to the Prime Minister on one occasion about the proposal. This was on Dec 23, 2010, at a dinner hosted by Rebekah and Charlie Brooks and attended by a number of other people.

It took place two days after responsibility for the matter had passed to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt, (from Vince Cable). On Dec 21 the Prime Minister’s office had issued a statement saying that: ‘The Prime Minister is clear that Mr Cable’s comments were totally unacceptable and inappropriate.’

I recall concurring with that view, and believe I would have appreciated assurances that the process would be handled objectively in the future.

Last year, Cameron told parliament: “I never had one inappropriate conversation”, adding that “[I] completely took myself out of any decision making about this bid”. A spokesman later added that Cameron had “not been involved in any of the discussions about BSkyB”.

Murdoch's insistence that it was "not a discussion" gives Cameron some wriggle room but one is left with the impression that the PM has not been entirely honest on this front.

The other revelation from Murdoch's appearance is that he also discussed the BSkyB bid with George Osborne. Here's the relevant extract from his witness statement:

My diary records an appointment with Mr Osborne on Nov 29, 2010, but I cannot recall whether that was the date on which I had the discussion with him.

I believe we discussed a number of matters, and that I expressed my concern at the slow progress with the regulatory process, my view that the investment would be good for Britain and also my view that there were no plurality issues raised by our proposal.

James Murdoch and David Cameron together in 2007. Photograph: Rex Features

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.