Nick Clegg was warned that Murdoch's papers would turn against Lib Dems if they opposed BSkyB bid

  • @oliver_wright

Nick Clegg was warned that if the Liberal Democrats opposed the Murdoch empire’s bid for BSkyB his newspapers would turn on the party.

Mr Clegg told the Leveson Inquiry he was given details of the threat by his senior parliamentary aide Norman Lamb.

“(I was told) that it would be good for the Lib Dems to be open to the bid, otherwise we would expect no favourable treatment from the Murdoch press", Mr Clegg told the inquiry.

“Norman was quite agitated about that,” Mr Clegg added. “As we had not received particularly favourable treatment in the first place I did not think it was a particularly credible threat.”

Lib Dem sources said afterwards that Mr Lamb had now written to the inquiry to set out details of the threat. However they suggested that the comments had not emanated from either of the Murdochs or Rebekah Brooks. Mr Lamb’s letter to the inquiry is likely to be released in due course.

Mr Clegg said the Press had “ignored or derided” him and the Liberal Democrats before they entered government.

At one dinner party on December 16 2009 that he attended with Mr Murdoch, Mrs Brooks and Sunday Times editor John Witherow, Mr Clegg said he was little more than “an observer”.

“I was at the very end of the table, where the children sit, so to speak,” he added.

The following March he had lunch with Sun editor Dominic Mohan, and a "brief" meeting with Mrs Brooks and Mr Murdoch lasting a maximum of 10 minutes.

The Lib Dem leader said his strong performance in the first televised general election leaders' debate had sparked a major shift in attitudes towards him and his party.

He said newspapers had gone from being "indifferent at best" to "lashing out" after his ratings spiked in the polls.

"If that is what you are used to in the Press it must come as a bit of a shock, I guess, when you suddenly have these people who you have been either ignoring or deriding suddenly doing well in a general election, you start lashing out a bit, and that is what happened," Mr Clegg said.

Turning to the way in which the bid for BSkyB was handled by the Government Mr Clegg said he sought assurances from then cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell that News Corporation's attempt to take full control of BSkyB would be handled properly if responsibility was shifted to Mr Hunt.

“I was ready to accept the reassurances, as I did, that the process would have to be conducted in a sort of objective and quasi-judicial manner and that in one sense Jeremy Hunt's personal views were as irrelevant as Vince Cable's were,” Mr Clegg said.

M4r was asked if he still thought that had been the case, despite the emergence of close contacts between News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel and Mr Hunt's office, and the Culture Secretary's backing of the bid in a private letter to David Cameron.

“To be fair, they don't actually materially add very much to, for instance, what was then already publicly known,” he said.

Mr Clegg confirmed that he had known the News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel for many years, before he became an MP in 2005.

But he told the inquiry he had never discussed the bid with him.

“Latterly our children go to the same school in south-west London so I very much knew him well before he was employed in his current capacity and knew him socially as well,” the Deputy Prime Minister said.

“Since the general election 2010, my social contact with him is very, very infrequent indeed.”