Blair refuses to distance himself from Murdoch

The former PM avoided any criticism of the Murdochs at a press conference in Australia.

Tony Blair has been talking at length about the phone hacking scandal and the Murdochs for the first time since the Milly Dowler story broke. Appearing at a joint press conference with Australian prime minister Julia Gillard in Murdoch's homeland, Blair was asked if he thought "the Murdochs themselves should be held responsible."

He replied:

Look, I think there's going to be several inquiries that are underway in the UK now. I think all of these issues are going to be gone into in depth, which they should. Obviously what happened in relation to the hacking was pretty despicable, what happened there, but as I think both the Murdochs said when they went to the select committee in the House of Commons, you know, they take responsibility for that [emphasis mine] and it's important that we now get to the bottom of what has happened and work out a right way of trying to get these relationships on a sound footing for the future.

In fact, contrary to Blair, Rupert Murdoch did not take responsibility for the hacking scandal at the select committee hearing last week. He told MPs: "I do not accept ultimate responsibility. I hold responsible the people that I trusted to run it and the people they trusted."

It was that startling complacency that prompted Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, to attack Murdoch's "complete denial of any responsibility of his organisation".

Blair was also asked whether he had received any assurances that his phone wasn't hacked, he replied:

I actually, well when I was Prime Minister of the UK I never had a mobile phone, which nowadays I think was a real advantage for me, so I've never thought that it's possible that I would be but I honestly have no idea.

But perhaps the most notable thing about the press conference was Blair's refusal to distance himself from the Murdoch empire. He would not comment on the failed BSkyB bid and when asked if Rupert Murdoch should step aside, replied:

Look, I think everyone agrees the hacking of that poor girl's phone was despicable, I don't think there's anybody who would dispute that - including the Murdochs, by the way - but what happens to News International is a matter for them.

Note the way that he inserts, "including the Murdochs, by the way", as if to legitimise his criticism of the Dowler hacking. He feels comfortable describing it as "despicable" because the Murdochs have used similar language themselves.

Finally, here's how Blair responded when asked if Murdoch entered Downing Street by the front door or the back door: "I can't honestly remember."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Will Jeremy Corbyn stand down if Labour loses the general election?

Defeat at the polls might not be the end of Corbyn’s leadership.

The latest polls suggest that Labour is headed for heavy defeat in the June general election. Usually a general election loss would be the trigger for a leader to quit: Michael Foot, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband all stood down after their first defeat, although Neil Kinnock saw out two losses before resigning in 1992.

It’s possible, if unlikely, that Corbyn could become prime minister. If that prospect doesn’t materialise, however, the question is: will Corbyn follow the majority of his predecessors and resign, or will he hang on in office?

Will Corbyn stand down? The rules

There is no formal process for the parliamentary Labour party to oust its leader, as it discovered in the 2016 leadership challenge. Even after a majority of his MPs had voted no confidence in him, Corbyn stayed on, ultimately winning his second leadership contest after it was decided that the current leader should be automatically included on the ballot.

This year’s conference will vote on to reform the leadership selection process that would make it easier for a left-wing candidate to get on the ballot (nicknamed the “McDonnell amendment” by centrists): Corbyn could be waiting for this motion to pass before he resigns.

Will Corbyn stand down? The membership

Corbyn’s support in the membership is still strong. Without an equally compelling candidate to put before the party, Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP are unlikely to initiate another leadership battle they’re likely to lose.

That said, a general election loss could change that. Polling from March suggests that half of Labour members wanted Corbyn to stand down either immediately or before the general election.

Will Corbyn stand down? The rumours

Sources close to Corbyn have said that he might not stand down, even if he leads Labour to a crushing defeat this June. They mention Kinnock’s survival after the 1987 general election as a precedent (although at the 1987 election, Labour did gain seats).

Will Corbyn stand down? The verdict

Given his struggles to manage his own MPs and the example of other leaders, it would be remarkable if Corbyn did not stand down should Labour lose the general election. However, staying on after a vote of no-confidence in 2016 was also remarkable, and the mooted changes to the leadership election process give him a reason to hold on until September in order to secure a left-wing succession.

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