What Brown and Murdoch really said to each other

Brown is right about the timing and subject of the call.

In the paperback of our book - Brown at 10 - Anthony Seldon and I published an extract of the call that took place between between Gordon Brown and Rupert Murdoch, which has been the subject of some discussion today following Rupert Murdoch's evidence to the Levenson inquiry. Brown is right about the timing and subject of the call. They did not speak after the Sun announced its decision to back the Tories during Labour's 2009 conference. They spoke in November after the Sun ran a story critcising the handwritten letter Brown wrote to the mother of a solider killed in Afghanistan. And Brown's anger was directed not at Murdoch but at Rebekah Brooks, who was also on the call.

This is what was said:

When Brown heard about his taped phone call, he was not angry with the mother, but he was very angry with The Sun. Rupert Murdoch personally intervened to try and repair relations between the government and News International and told Brown in a phone call on 22 November that he thought the paper was 'wrong to publish the Janes story'. The tone of the conversation between the two was described as 'warm'. Brown said: 'Rupert you know I respect you and hold you in the highest regard. You know that I have never criticised you personally, and I have never let my people criticise you personally, but your people in London are making a great mistake. You've got to sort them out'. 'I hear you' replied the media mogul 'and I want to apologise.' Those who observed the two men together were often struck by their similarities: 'they were both outsiders, both from a long line of Scottish Presbyterian stock, they valued hard work, they both operated on the basis of knowing more than others, and they both had a phenomenal drive to win' says one. On the call they disagreed only on Brown's claim that The Sun's campaign was 'undermining our mission in Afghanistan'. The atmosphere of the conversation then began to deteriorate when Murdoch pleaded with the Prime Minister three times to speak to Rebekah Brooks, who was also on the line. 'I have no interest in speaking to the woman who is persecuting me' said Brown stubbornly. After more pressure from Murdoch he finally conceded. During a very tense conversation Brown raged: 'How dare you do this to me!' A breathless Brooks tried to deny she had anything 'to do with the headline' and claimed that she had been on holiday when the decision to run the story was taken. 'I know you're lying to me' Brown yelled and slammed the phone down. It would be the last time the two spoke.

Guy Lodge is the author (with Anthony Seldon) of Brown at 10

Gordon Brown's anger April 17, 2010 Photograph: Getty Images

Guy Lodge is associate director at IPPR. He is co-author with Iain McLean and Jim Gallagher of Scotland’s Choices: the referendum and what happens afterwards and with Anthony Seldon of Brown at Ten.

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Theresa May "indifferent" towards Northern Ireland, says Alliance leader Naomi Long

The non-sectarian leader questioned whether the prime minister and James Brokenshire have the “sensitivity and neutrality” required to resolve the impasse at Stormont.

Theresa May’s decision to call an early election reflects her “indifference” towards the Northern Ireland peace process, according to Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, who has accused both the prime minister and her Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire of lacking the “sensitivity and neutrality” required to resolve the political impasse at Stormont.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman, Long – who is running to regain her former Belfast East seat from the DUP for her non-sectarian party in June – accused the Conservatives of “double messaging” over its commitment to Northern Ireland’s fragile devolution settlement. The future of power-sharing province remains in doubt as parties gear up for the province’s fourth election campaign in twelve months.

Asked whether she believed the prime minister – who has been roundly criticised at Stormont for her decision to go to the country early – truly cared about Northern Ireland, Long’s assessment was blunt. “We have had no sense at any time, even when she was home secretary, that she has any sensitivity towards the Northern Ireland process or any interest in engaging with it at all... It speaks volumes that, when she did her initial tour when she was prime minister, Northern Ireland was fairly low down on her list.”

The timing of the snap election has forced Brokenshire to extend the deadline for talks for a fourth time – until the end of June – which Long said was proof “Northern Ireland and its problems were not even considered” in the prime minister’s calculations. “I think that’s increasingly a trend we’ve seen with this government,” she said, arguing May’s narrow focus on Brexit and pursuing electoral gains in England had made progress “essentially almost impossible”.

“They really lack sensitivity – and appear to be tone deaf to the needs of Scotland and Northern Ireland,” she said. “They are increasingly driven by an English agenda in terms of what they want to do. That makes it very challenging for those of us who are trying to restore devolution, which is arguably in the worst position it’s been in [since the Assembly was suspended for four years] in 2003.”

The decisive three weeks of post-election talks will now take place in the weeks running up to Northern Ireland’s loyalist parade season in July, which Long said was “indicative of [May’s] indifference” and would make compromise “almost too big an ask for anyone”. “The gaps between parties are relatively small but the depth of mistrust is significant. If we have a very fractious election, then obviously that timing’s a major concern,” she said. “Those three weeks will be very intense for us all. But I never say never.”

But in a further sign that trust in Brokenshire’s ability to mediate a settlement among the Northern Irish parties is deteriorating, she added: “Unless we get devolution over the line by that deadline, I don’t think it can be credibly further extended without hitting James Brokenshire’s credibility. If you continue to draw lines in the sand and let people just walk over them then that credibility doesn’t really exist.”

The secretary of state, she said, “needs to think very carefully about what his next steps are going to be”, and suggested appointing an independent mediator could provide a solution to the current impasse given the criticism of Brokenshire’s handling of Troubles legacy issues and perceived partisan closeness to the DUP. “We’re in the bizarre situation where we meet a secretary of state who says he and his party are completely committed to devolution when they ran a campaign, in which he participated, with the slogan ‘Peace Process? Fleece Process!’ We’re getting double messages from the Conservatives on just how committed to devolution they actually are.”

Long, who this week refused to enter into an anti-Brexit electoral pact with Sinn Fein and the SDLP, also criticised the government’s push for a hard Brexit – a decision which she said had been taken with little heed for the potentially disastrous impact on Northern Ireland - and said the collapse of power-sharing at Stormont was ultimately a direct consequence of the destabilisation brought about by Brexit.

 Arguing that anything other than retaining current border arrangements and a special status for the province within the EU would “rewind the clock” to the days before the Good Friday agreement, she said: “Without a soft Brexit, our future becomes increasingly precarious and divided. You need as Prime Minister, if you’re going to be truly concerned about the whole of the UK, to acknowledge and reflect that both in terms of tone and policy. I don’t think we’ve seen that yet from Theresa May.”

She added that the government had no answers to the “really tough questions” on Ireland’s post-Brexit border. “This imaginary vision of a seamless, frictionless border where nobody is aware that it exists...for now that seems to me pie in the sky.”

However, despite Long attacking the government of lacking the “sensitivity and neutrality” to handle the situation in Northern Ireland effectively, she added that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn had similarly failed to inspire confidence.

“Corbyn has no more sensitivity to what’s going on in Northern Ireland at the moment than Theresa May,” she said, adding that his links to Sinn Fein and alleged support for IRA violence had made him “unpalatable” to much of the Northern Irish public. “He is trying to repackage that as him being in some sort of advance guard for the peace process, but I don’t think that’s the position from which he and John McDonnell were coming – and Northern Irish people know that was the case.” 

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

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