Mark Steel: There was no deal between
Blair and Murdoch. Only a conspiracy
theorist would suggest that. Obviously.

Those phone calls weren't about influence. They were about friendship.

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Who's the vindictive bastard who made Tony Blair give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry? This was heartlessly cruel, to all decent people who have tried to put Blair behind us and get on with our lives. But there he was again, tormenting us, making us feel like someone just coming to terms with their years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp and then the bloke who used to electrocute us every morning comes on daytime television, justifying himself and leaving us screaming and dribbling and eating an eight-pack box of Toffee Crisps as all the memories come washing back.

There was never an agreement between New Labour and Murdoch, he insisted. Because only a conspiracy theorist would suggest Blair flew to Australia to spend an afternoon with Murdoch to get anything from him, and if Murdoch's papers supported Blair a short while later, that was one of life's chirpy coincidences. Clearly, the Blairs wanted a weekend break, and cottages in the Cotswolds were all booked up, so they popped to Australia for six hours' quality time and, by random chance, bumped into Murdoch at his own house.

Similarly, asked why he contacted Murdoch three times in the two weeks before the start of the Iraq war, Blair said, "I don't think there's anything particularly odd about that." So it wasn't because Murdoch had influence in any way, he was just calling for a chat. Maybe he rang lots of people, selected at random from the phonebook, because what few of us realise is that Prime Ministers have nothing to do in the week before a war starts, so they get bored. All over the country that week, people must have had calls from him, until they had to say, "Anyway, Tony, I can't stay gossiping as my sausages are burning so I'd better go."

And he explained how he sent a message to Rebekah Brooks after her resignation, because "I don't believe in being a fairweather friend". He's on firmer ground here, because many of us have trouble being truly loyal to friends. If, for example, one of our friends becomes a bit needy on account of ruling a North African nation as a murdering tyrant, we might keep our distance, but Tony has the Christian heart to stick with his mates in these trying moments. And who of us can say we haven't, when life gets tough, owned or run a newspaper that's hacked into murdered kids' voicemails? It's at those times, your true friends shine through.

So is it any wonder he referred to this newspaper as "a feral beast, tearing people and reputations to shreds". Because The Independent would be so much more respected if it followed the slogan of his friend Rupert's papers, which is: "If you can't say something nice about someone don't say anything at all." I suppose we should be thankful Cherie didn't get called, as she'd have not only spent the day uttering similar gibberish, but put in for a 50 grand appearance fee as well.

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