Did Murdoch order the Sun to print Harry photos?

The tycoon's warning shot to Leveson.

Today's Independent on Sunday reports that Rupert Murdoch personally ordered the Sun to print naked photos of Prince Harry, in order to send a warning to the Leveson inquiry not to limit press freedom. According to the paper:

News International has refused to comment on speculation that Mr Murdoch intervened. But according to a well-placed source, Mr Murdoch told [News International chief executive] Tom Mockridge in his transatlantic phone call on Thursday: "There is a principle here. I know this is about Leveson but this is humiliating. We can't carry on like this. We should run them, do it and say to Leveson, we are doing it for press freedom."

Neil Wallis, a former News International executive, said:

This was a decision taken by Rupert. Rupert cares passionately about newspapers. He thinks this stuff is important. This is the only good thing that has happened at News International for a year. Once they knew they were going to do it, there was just a magnificent morale boost. They have stood up and looked the rest of the media in the eye, Parliament in the eye, and looked Leveson in the eye. Rupert has done an enormous amount for the morale of his own newspaper. And also, I know, journalists from other companies, although they can't publicly say so.

Yet the Sun's contention that publishing the photos was in the public interest has drawn widespread criticism. Members of the public have also been contacting the Press Complaints Commission, unhappy with the Sun's coverage. Perhaps mindful of this, Rupert Murdoch wrote on Twitter last night:

Prince Harry. Give him a break. He may be on the public payroll one way or another, but the public loves him, even to enjoy Las Vegas.

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George Osborne's surplus target is under threat without greater austerity

The IFS exposes the Chancellor's lack of breathing space.

At the end of the last year, I noted how George Osborne's stock, which rose dramatically after the general election, had begun to plummet. His ratings among Tory members and the electorate fell after the tax credits imbroglio and he was booed at the Star Wars premiere (a moment which recalled his past humbling at the Paralympics opening ceremony). 

Matters have improved little since. The Chancellor was isolated by No.10 and cabinet colleagues after describing the Google tax deal, under which the company paid £130m, as a "major success". Today, he is returning from the Super Bowl to a grim prognosis from the IFS. In its Green Budget, the economic oracle warns that Osborne's defining ambition of a budget surplus by 2019-20 may be unachievable without further spending cuts and tax rises. 

Though the OBR's most recent forecast gave him a £10.1bn cushion, reduced earnings growth and lower equity prices could eat up most of that. In addition, the government has pledged to make £8bn of currently unfunded tax cuts by raising the personal allowance and the 40p rate threshold. The problem for Osborne, as his tax credits defeat demonstrated, is that there are few easy cuts left to make. 

Having committed to achieving a surplus by the fixed date of 2019-20, the Chancellor's new fiscal mandate gives him less flexibility than in the past. Indeed, it has been enshrined in law. Osborne's hope is that the UK will achieve its first surplus since 2000-01 just at the moment that he is set to succeed (or has succeeded) David Cameron as prime minister: his political fortunes are aligned with those of the economy. 

There is just one get-out clause. Should GDP growth fall below 1 per cent, the target is suspended. An anaemic economy would hardly be welcome for the Chancellor but it would at least provide him with an alibi for continued borrowing. Osborne may be forced to once more recite his own version of Keynes's maxim: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.