Leveson inquiry: Murdoch wanted me to change policy, reveals John Major
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Mr Murdoch – owner of the Sun and the Times – warned that without change, his newspapers would not support the then Conservative Government, Sir John told the Leveson Inquiry.
Sir John said the conversation took place during a dinner in February 1997 – a few months before Labour defeated the Conservatives at a general election.
“Mr Murdoch said he really didn’t like our European policies,” Sir John told inquiry chairman Lord Justice Leveson. “That was no surprise to me.”
Sir John added: “He wished me to change our European policies. If we couldn’t change our European policies his papers could not, would not support our Conservative Government. As I recall he used the word ‘we’ when referring to his newspapers. He didn’t make the usual nod to editorial independence.”
Sir John added: “There was no question of me changing our policies.”
In April, Mr Murdoch told the Leveson Inquiry: “I have never asked a prime minister for anything.
“If any politician wanted my opinions on major matters, they only had to read the editorials in the Sun.”
Mr Major told the inquiry yesterday that he had dinner with Mr Murdoch on 2 February 1997.
“Just before the 1997 election it was suggested to me I ought to try to make some effort to get closer to the Murdoch papers,” he said. “I agreed I would invite Mr Murdoch to dinner.”
He said the discussion was one he was unlikely to forget.
“It is not often someone sits in front of a prime minister and says to a prime minister ‘I would like you to change your policy or my organisation cannot support you’,” Sir John said. Sir John met Mr Murdoch three times during his premiership – in 1992, 1993 and 1997.
Sir John told the inquiry he believed the way the press dealt with the party’s “back to basics” policy was unfair. He read out a section of the original speech, made to the Conservative Party conference in 1993, which called for children to be given the best teaching, for British industry to be the best and for public services to be of a high standard. “It wasn’t a puritanical moral crusade at any time,” he said.
Sir John also told the inquiry his former political foe, Neil Kinnock, had been unfairly portrayed in the Press while Labour leader.
“The Neil Kinnock I knew was very honest, very straightforward,” he said. “If I met him privately, it stayed private. If he gave me his word, he kept his word. I found him very straightforward to deal with and, in my judgment, a much more considerable person than he was portrayed in the media I had seen, before I came to know him.”