John Rentoul: There was no cosy deal for Murdoch to gain from

There were no revelations and anyone who was expecting news should have known better

Share
Related Topics

I don't know what the purveyors of the thesis that Tony Blair was too close to Rupert Murdoch expected yesterday, but they didn't get it. There was no point in alleging that Blair did a deal to allow Murdoch greater dominion over the British media unless you could show that Murdoch benefited from it. Which he did not. Murdoch owned four newspapers with about one third of the British market in 1997, and controlled Sky television. By the end of Blair's time as Prime Minister, or indeed of Gordon Brown's, Murdoch owned four newspapers with about one third of the national market, and controlled Sky television.

What had changed in the intervening period was that the newspapers became less influential, with the rise of the internet and The Times going behind a paywall in 2010, and Sky became more important. Yet Sky News is still bound by the rules on impartiality that apply to all other television channels and no one seriously suggests that it is anything like Fox TV, Murdoch's American channel with a conservative editorial stance. Although Alastair Campbell succeeded in provoking Adam Boulton into losing his temper after the 2010 election, the point about that exchange was that Campbell was wrong to allege bias and Boulton was right to defend Sky News's editorial independence.

So Robert Jay, the Leveson Inquiry's counsel, didn't ask the "cosy deal" question. And before he didn't ask it, Blair took control of the interrogation by saying that his government more often decided against Murdoch's interests than in favour of them. Which is also true. Blair gave trade unions the legal right to recognition, which Murdoch did not want. Stephen Byers, as Trade and Industry Secretary, refused to allow Murdoch to buy Manchester United. On the other hand, the media ownership rules were relaxed in 2002 to allow Murdoch to buy Channel 5. Which he didn't do. The main anti-competitive practice in which Murdoch engaged, as I remember well as a leaderwriter for this newspaper around the turn of the century, was to price The Times at a deep discount to gain market share. This was less at the expense of The Independent than of other newspapers, as it turned out, but we were worried about it, until Murdoch suddenly decided that he had lost enough money and gained enough in circulation.

When it came to the anti-war conspiracy theory about the telephone calls between Blair and Murdoch on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Jay made no more progress than the double-barrelled protester who invaded the court room to shout insults of ignorance. Indeed, Jay did more to confound the conspiracy theory than Blair did. Jay pointed out that all Murdoch's newspapers around the world had come out in favour of military action before the telephone calls, so it was not as if Blair had to persuade Murdoch of the case. And if anyone wanted to ask Blair if his resolve for war had to be stiffened by Murdoch at the last moment, it wasn't going to be Jay.

Jay had tried to set the tone early on by talking about being "malleable with the truth", although it was not clear of whom he was talking. But Blair had no trouble with that. "I know what you are up to," he said, although not in those words. "You mean spin."

We knew that Blair would do a good job of explaining the blindingly obvious, which is that political leaders try to secure a fair hearing for their views with powerful people in the media. We knew, too, that he would draw attention to the historical context. And he did, saying gently "I'd be surprised" if any previous government did not try to put the best gloss on its policies. He managed in the first 10 minutes to remind us that Labour had lost four times – and been savaged by the Murdoch press – before he came along; and that the Labour government turned round schools, hospitals and crime. He also deflected some of the criticisms of the Murdoch press by rehearsing his "feral beast" thesis against the Daily Mail. (Still no hint of an apology, though, for levelling the accusation first against The Independent just before stepping down as Prime Minister.)

But there were no revelations, apart from his pronunciation of "Murdoch" with a Scottish ch, and anyone who was expecting new news should have known better. He was asked about a Daily Mail editorial – "The deluded world of Mr Blair" – which alleged that the press, far from being savage, had slobbered over him like a puppy. He said that it was not a picture that he recognised, and observed: "I'm the one with self-delusion, am I?"

Everyone will answer that question after Blair gave his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry in the same way that they would have answered it before. No wonder Robert Jay QC shut up shop 90 minutes early with the equivalent of "No further questions, your honour".

John Rentoul is a biographer of Tony Blair and chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - London, £60k

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - Central London, £60,000...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Recruitment Genius: Service Agent / QA Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an est...

Recruitment Genius: C# / XAML Developer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity for a talented...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Benedict Cumberbatch race row: Calling black people 'coloured' removes part of their humanity

Yemisi Adegoke
 

Dippy the Diplodocus: The great exotic beast was the stuff of a childhood fantasy story

Charlie Cooper
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness