Brown in the clear over Murdoch "war" call

Cabinet Office says it has no record of alleged call to Murdoch in September 2009.

Rupert Murdoch told the Leveson inquiry that an unbalanced Gordon Brown declared "war" on his company in a phone call following the Sun's defection to the Tories in September 2009. In his own appearance on Monday, Brown insisted that the call never took place. Who's telling the truth?

According to the Cabinet Office, Brown is. Earlier today, it announced that it had no record of a call that month, and that the pair spoke only once in the year to March 2010, when they discussed Afghanistan in November 2009.

Here's the statement in full:

Following Gordon Brown's evidence to the Leveson Inquiry on Monday we have received a number of questions about our records, which we provided to Mr Brown to support his preparations for the inquiry.

We can confirm that there is a record of only one call between Mr Brown and Rupert Murdoch in the year to March 2010.

That call took place on the 10th of November 2009.

This was followed up by an email from Gordon Brown to Rupert Murdoch on the same day referring to the earlier conversation on Afghanistan.

Four witness statements have been submitted to the inquiry on the content of the call by staff who worked in No 10 Downing Street and who were the four and sole personnel on the phone call.

Brown's office said the statement "confirms Mr Brown's evidence to the inquiry and this document will now be submitted by Mr Brown to Lord Justice Leveson".

"The fact is there is no record of a phone call Mr Murdoch claims to have had with Mr Brown around the end of September 2009. There is no record of a call because because no call took place. Indeed even now Mr Murdoch has been unable to name any date or a time of such a call."

Guido speculates that the call could have taken place on a mobile (and gone unrecorded) but it's worth noting that Brown told the inquiry that all calls, "including those transacted through a mobile phone", went through the Downing Street switchboard.

It looks like it's Murdoch with the questions to answer here.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown leaves after giving evidence at the Leveson inquiry. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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