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26 July 2011

Blair refuses to distance himself from Murdoch

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

By George Eaton

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.”

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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”.

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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.”