Monday, 11 July 2011

Tony Blair: 'I had a friend called Faust ...'

YESTERDAY, The Mail on Sunday ran a headline declaring 'Blair Bid To Silence MP Who Exposed Murdoch' followed by an article claiming 'Tony Blair urged Gordon Brown to persuade the Labour MP [Tom Watson] who led the campaign to expose the News of the World phone-hacking to back off ...' It is reported that Gordon Brown refused to do this, but in a two-year long struggle Tom Watson MP, by employing parliamentary privilege, has played a crucial role in challenging Rupert Murdoch's company News Corporation over its use of phone-hacking at the News of the World. The Mail on Sunday further alleges: 'Mrs [Rebekah] Brooks begged Blairite ex-Cabinet Minister Tessa Jowell to help "stop this madman Tom Watson" - and also sought help from her friend, Mr Blair.'

In the paperback version of his autobiography 'A Journey', published last month, Tony Blair writes: 'In June 1995 we had further outraged sensibilities by accepting an invitation ... to address Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation conference on Hayman Island in Australia ...' Mr Blair explains his decision to accept Rupert Murdoch's offer thus: '... the country's most important newspaper proprietor, whose publications have hitherto been rancorous in their opposition to the Labour Party, invites us into the lion's den. You go, don't you?'

Of Murdoch, Blair wrote that he found him to be an 'enigma' and that the more he got to know him the more he felt this. Blair's judgement of Murdoch was that '[i]n the end ... I came to have a grudging respect and even liking for him.' Blair concludes that although he does not share Murdoch's views on Europe, social policy or gay rights, he he admired his 'balls' and 'outsider' attitude to the Establishment.

Curiously, after these comments on his early experience of Murdoch on pages 96, 97 and 98, and despite what we now know of the intimate relationship between Blair, his New Labour government and Murdoch and his acolytes, there is surprisingly little further reference to Murdoch in Blair's autobiography until we get to page 655, and the time of Blair's departure and Gordon Brown's coronation. On page 655 Blair writes: 'There was no contest for the leadership ... John Reid could have stood, but the Murdoch papers, I fear at Rupert's instigation, just wrote him off ...' Blair considers: 'This is where Gordon's strategy of tying up Rupert [Murdoch] and Dacre [editor in chief of the Mail Group] really paid off - any likely contenders didn't get a look-in; they got squashed.'

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