Show Hide image

Blair's advice to Rebekah Brooks during the phone-hacking scandal: full details

The former PM allegedly advised Brooks to "publish a Hutton style report" and offered to act as an "unofficial adviser".

The phone-hacking trial has come to life with the revelation that Tony Blair offered extensive advice to Rebekah Brooks at the height of the scandal. According to an email sent by Brooks to James Murdoch (who had earlier replied to another message: "What are you doing on email?") on 11 July, the day after the News of the World was closed, she spent "an hour on the phone" to Blair, who advised her to launch a "Hutton style" inquiry. The former PM also allegedly offered to act as an "unofficial adviser" to her and the Murdochs on a "between us" basis. Here's her five-point summary of the conversation to James Murdoch: 

"1. Form an independent unit that has an outside junior counsel, Ken Macdonald, a great and good type, a serious forensic criminal barrister, internal counsel, proper fact checkers etc in it. Get them to investigate me and others and publish a Hutton style report," she said.

"2. Publish part one of the report at same time as the police closes its inquiry and clear you and accept short comings and new solutions and process and part two when any trials are over.

"3. Keep strong and definitely sleeping pills. Need to have clear heads and remember no rash short term solutions as they only give you long term headaches.

"4. It will pass. Tough up.

"5. He [Blair] is available for you, KRM [Rupert Murdoch] and me as an unofficial adviser but needs to be between us." 

So Blair was telling Brooks "it will pass. Tough up" as Ed Miliband was calling for her to resign and for a public inquiry into phone-hacking. Could there be a greater contrast? 

Update 1: Blair's office has just issued the statement below.

This was Mr Blair simply giving informal advice over the phone. He made it absolutely clear to Ms Brooks that, though he knew nothing personally about the facts of the case, in a situation as serious as this it was essential to have a fully transparent and independent process to get to the bottom of what had happened. That inquiry should be led by credible people, get all the facts out there and that if anything wrong were found there should be immediate action taken and the changes to the organisation made so that they could not happen again.

Mr Blair said that if what he was being told by her was correct, and there had been no wrongdoing, then a finding to that effect by a credible Inquiry would be far better than an internal and therefore less credible investigation.

Update 2: In an earlier email with the subject line "Plan B" to James Murdoch on 8 July, Brooks wrote of her hope that former News International chief executive Les Hinton and News of the World editor Colin Myler could be scapegoated for the scandal as she was vindicated. She wrote: 

A thought...and a Les [Hinton] situation could play well into this even if it was at a later date. Ie result of my report when published would slam Les [Hinton]. Colin [Myler]. Etc and it will vindicate my position (or not).

She added: "I am ring fenced clearly and properly. It will be written as a slippery slope for me but I hardly have a reputation left."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.