Labour: Tories conspired with Murdoch press on leaks

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A conspiracy between Rupert Murdoch and the Conservative Party was behind the spate of leaks that has destablisedthe Government, Labour claimed yesterday.

A conspiracy between Rupert Murdoch and the Conservative Party was behind the spate of leaks that has destablisedthe Government, Labour claimed yesterday.

Clive Soley, chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party and a close ally of Tony Blair, said: "There is a political agenda behind this... for the Murdoch press as well as for the Conservative Party." Mr Soley said the Tories were orchestrating the timing of the leaks to overshadow government announcements such as last week's spending blueprint and yesterday's plan for the National Health Service. "Who has an interest in doing that?" he said. "The Conservative Party."

Downing Street suggested the disclosures were politically motivated, and those behind the leaks were trying to create a "news blackout" and "zero coverage" for important issues". Mr Blair's spokesman said: "There is a lot of news management going on around these leaks."

He claimed there were crucial errors in the latest leak, in which the Prime Minister adopted a more positive stance on the single currency than he has done in public, saying the "politics was overwhemingly in favour" of joining the euro.

The spokesman said The Times and The Sun, part of Mr Murdoch's News International empire, were wrong to suggest Mr Blair wrote the memo last December and the "selective" version they published yesterday omitted some of the Prime Minister's words.

The report was written in April, around the same time as the other six memos, all leaked to Murdoch papers, fuelling Downing Street's suspicion that a "job lot" of reports was obtained and are being published at times to inflict maximum damage on the Government. Mr Blair's spokesman said: "Someone, for whatever reason, is misleading the [news]papers and trying to present these memos as coming from another period."

Blair aides, who had feared a mole was operating at the heart of the Downing Street, now believe that is unlikely. They suspect the memos were obtained illegally from Philip Gould, Mr Blair's pollster. He has told Special Branch officers that one, in which he said the New Labour brand was "badly contaminated" was never sent to Mr Blair in the form in which it was leaked. The two papers obtained an early draft, suggesting the leak did not emanate from Downing Street.

The Times yesterday denied paying for its material and dismissed suggestions that it was in league with people who illicitly searched dustbins, calling this "a deliberate political smokescreen". The Tory leader,William Hague, said on BBC Radio 4 yesterday: "No, we are not on the copy list of these memos. But I think they are extraordinarily revealing.

"If people steal things then of course I condemn that. But I have no idea where these things come from. Someone may have a political motive, I don't know what the motive is. It shouldn't happen in a well-run government."

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