Giving evidence before the Leveson Inquiry in 2012, Young Dave told his inquisitors on the subject of whether the Tories had made a Faustian pact with the Murdoch mafiosi “There was no overt deal for support, there was no covert deal, no nods and winks. There was a Conservative politician, me, trying to win over newspapers, trying to win over television, trying to win over proprietors - but not trading policies for that support”.
JOLLY POOR SHEOW!
That claim always looked to have been built upon shaky ground, especially given Cameron seemingly had no problem taking former Screws editor Andy Coulson into 10 Downing Street when the Coalition took power in the wake of the 2010 General Election. It looked yet shakier when one considered the lengths to which Tony Blair went to get the Murdoch press, and especially the Sun, on side in the run-up to the 1997 contest.
Now, in evidence to the Competition and Markets Authority, Ken Clarke has effectively blown Cameron’s Leveson claim apart - to the extent that the former PM should consider revisiting his testimony. Here is what he had to say on the subject.
“Quite how David Cameron got the Sun out of the hands of Gordon Brown I shall never know … Rupert would never let Tony [Blair] down because Tony had backed the Iraq war. Maybe it was some sort of a deal. David would not tell me what it was. Suddenly we got the Murdoch empire on our side”. And that was not all.
Once installed as Justice Secretary in the Coalition Government, Clarke had a meeting with the twinkle-toed yet domestically combative Rebekah Brooks, where she “described herself as running the government now in partnership with David Cameron”.
Clarke’s candour was most revealing: “I found myself having an extraordinary meeting with Rebekah who was instructing me on criminal justice policy from now on, as I think she had instructed my predecessor, so far as I could see, judging from the numbers of people we had in prison and the growth of rather exotic sentences”. And there was more.
“She wanted me to buy prison ships because she did accept that the capacity of the prisons was getting rather strained, putting it mildly. She really was solemnly telling me that we had got to have prison ships because she had got some more campaigns coming, which is one of her specialities … I regarded this as a very amusing conversation and took not the slightest notice. As long as I was justice secretary, we would not have any of this”.
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson has not been backwards in coming forwards to point out that this was not the only aspect of Murdoch misbehaviour in the recent past, noting that “In just the last few months here in the UK, Murdoch companies have paid out damages to a former army intelligence officer whose computer was hacked by private detectives working for the News of the World, and settled 17 cases of phone hacking and illegally obtaining personal information. And more cases are outstanding”.
Ken Clarke - an abundance of candour
This, he asserts, merely emphasises the need for Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry to proceed without further delay. But there is something more fundamental that Clarke’s candour tells us, and this leads back to Cameron - even, whisper it quietly, to Blair.
Lance Price recalled of his time as one of Blair’s media advisors, “I have never met Mr Murdoch, but at times when I worked at Downing Street he seemed like the 24th member of the cabinet”. Price served Blair from 1998 to 2001, but even this year, when Theresa May was given the chance to deny rumours that Murdoch had asked her to reappoint his placeman Michael “Oiky” Gove to the cabinet, she failed to take it.
What Ken Clarke has recalled is entirely consistent with both Price’s recollection, and Ms May’s recent deflection. It shows that there is an expectation among the Murdoch mafiosi that they have sufficient leverage over the UK Government to be able to dictate policy - and do so on the basis of having it chime with Sun editorial judgments. Think about that.
Tony Blair might have overplayed his hand in courting Murdoch. But that was no excuse for Cameron to not merely emulate him, but also invite a Murdoch asset into Downing Street - and, it seems, without having Coulson cleared by the Developed Vetting (DV) process, which should be mandatory for anyone with access to sensitive information.
Young Dave also went riding with Ms Brooks - hence the story of the Police horse - and all the time the impression was given that what had been a close relationship with Blair had after 2010 gone rather too far. After he told Leveson “There was no overt deal for support, there was no covert deal, no nods and winks”, the old Goon Show response might have been “well, I say, then you’re cutting it rather fine, aren’t you”?
David Cameron’s reputation as a Prime Minister of more than averagely gobby substance already lies in tatters. But his reputation as a shameless charlatan of no fixed principle grows greater with each fresh revelation. Pass the sick bucket.