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.

Getty Images.
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Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.