Gordon Brown was so "obsessed" with trying to win the support of Rupert Murdoch while he was Prime Minister that he drew up his tax policies to appeal to the media magnate, according to a book published tomorrow.
Mr Brown later alleged there was a “conspiracy” against him involving Murdoch-owned newspapers and the Conservative Party, the book claims.
Lance Price, who was Alastair Campbell’s deputy at Downing Street during Tony Blair’s first term, discloses Mr Brown’s remarkable preoccupation with Mr Murdoch in a new edition of his book “Where Power Lies” published tomorrow.
It says Mr Brown’s disastrous decision to abolish the 10p starting rate of tax, which alienated many working class Labour supporters, stemmed from his desire to pander to Mr Murdoch. The money saved was used to cut the basic rate from 22p to 20p in the pound, and Mr Brown insisted there would be no losers.
“Gordon said it was all a media creation. He was in denial. Everybody looked at their shoes when he did it,” one civil servant told Price. Eventually, Mr Brown was forced into an expensive, humiliating climbdown.
Although the media mogul once described the former Prime Minister as “a friend of mine”, his News International papers – including The Sun, which had backed Tony Blair – endorsed David Cameron at last year’s general election.
The book reveals that No 10 aides would take bets on how long it would take Mr Brown to mention the Murdoch empire at meetings on unrelated subjects – often just a few minutes.
“He was obsessed with News International, completely obsessed,” said Patrick Loughran, a former Downing Street aide who was special adviser to Lord Mandelson. “We would go into meetings on election strategy or the pre-Budget report or some big announcement we were doing and within a minute Gordon would turn it into News International and Rebekah Brooks [the company’s chief executive]. He was absolutely obsessed that it was a News International conspiracy and they were in bed with the Tories.”
According to Price, Mr Brown acted as his own director of communications. “He was well qualified for the job, having spent years analysing the dynamics of news stories,” says the book. “Nonetheless prime ministers should not be their own press secretaries any more than they should be their own drivers. Brown knew that but throughout his time as prime minister he never found a person able and willing to do the kind of job Alastair Campbell and David Hill had done for Blair. It was a debilitating weakness in Brown’s operation and everybody could see it. And yet it was never resolved.”
In the run-up to last year’s election, Mr Brown decided to appoint his former press secretary Charlie Whelan as Labour’s director of communications. But the move was blocked by Lord Mandelson, an old enemy of Mr Whelan. “Charlie wanted to do it and Gordon wanted him but Peter vetoed it,” Mr Loughran told Price.
Lord Mandelson, brought back to the Cabinet and as unofficial Deputy Prime Minister, refused to speak to Damian McBride, a Brown spin doctor later forced to resign in 2009 after suggesting false smears about senior Tories for a Labour-supporting website.