Tony Blair At Leveson: Former Prime Minister To Be Questioned On Relationship With Media

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Tony Blair is to appear before Leveson on Monday | Getty

Tony Blair will be back at centre stage today when he appears at the Leveson Inquiry to be questioned about his relations with the media.

The former prime minister is likely to be asked about the nature of his and his government's links with Rupert Murdoch's media empire during his 13 years at the helm of the Labour Party, including a decade in Downing Street.

He can expect questions over whether he allowed his relationship with Murdoch and News International to become too close, as his former lieutenant Lord Mandelson told the inquiry on Monday.

Lord Mandelson said it was "arguably the case... that personal relationships between Blair, (Gordon) Brown and Rupert Murdoch became closer than was wise".

Blair famously flew to Hayman Island in Australia to address News Corp executives in 1995, as part of a Labour strategy to gain a hearing with newspapers which had savaged previous leaders Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock.

And it emerged last year that he formed a close enough relationship with Murdoch to become the godfather to one of the media tycoon's children in 2010.

tony blair arrives
Tony Blair outside court as he prepares for his appearance at the Leveson inquiry

Blair's appearance comes at the start of a high-profile week for the Leveson Inquiry, with beleaguered Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt set to give evidence on Thursday.

Hunt will also face a grilling over his office's links with Mr Murdoch's News Corp, particularly during its bid to take over the satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

He will be challenged over whether his public expressions of support for the bid were compatible with the quasi-judicial role he was given by Prime Minister David Cameron.

There was unconfirmed speculation this weekend that Cameron himself is due to appear two weeks later, on Thursday 14 June, and that Chancellor George Osborne could yet be called to give evidence in person.

Education Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May will appear on Tuesday and Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke on Wednesday.

tony blair leveson
Tony Blair pictured arriving at the Royal Courts Of Justice in London

Also due to give evidence on Wednesday is Business Secretary Vince Cable, who was stripped of the role of deciding whether the bid could proceed last December after he was secretly recorded saying he had "declared war" on Murdoch.

Hunt had asked for his appearance before the inquiry to be brought forward so he could give his side of the story as soon as possible, but was rebuffed by Lord Justice Leveson.

The inquiry has been presented with a cache of emails showing that News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel received inside information about the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's handling of the bid from Hunt's former special adviser Adam Smith, who quit last month after admitting he went too far in acting as a point of contact with the company.

Last week, the inquiry published a memo sent by the Culture Secretary to Cameron in November 2010, weeks before he took on the quasi-judicial role, in which he appeared to be making the case for News Corp's bid to go ahead.

Hunt insists that he oversaw the process "with scrupulous fairness throughout" and has received strong backing from the Prime Minister.

But Cameron has also said that if anything arises from the inquiry that suggests the ministerial code might have been breached, he will call in his independent ethics adviser Sir Alex Allan or take immediate action himself.

A decision on whether Sir Alex should investigate the Culture Secretary's behaviour is expected shortly after Hunt gives evidence.

Cable is likely to face questions over whether he approached the BSkyB bid with a pre-conceived hostility towards News Corp.

Gove, a former journalist on the News Corp-owned Times whose wife is a writer on the paper, is likely to be questioned about the frequency of his meetings with the company's executives, including Rupert Murdoch, his son James and former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks.

The Education Secretary last year recorded 11 meetings with senior News Corp figures between the May 2010 general election and July 2011 and has publicly described Rupert Murdoch as "a great man" and "a force of nature".

Earlier this year, he spoke out about the danger of freedom of speech being harmed by the "chilling atmosphere" created by the Leveson Inquiry.

SEE ALSO: Will The Inquiry Find A Chink In The Former PM's Armour?

Questioning the need for additional regulation of the Press, he cautioned against allowing "judges, celebrities and the establishment" to become the arbiters of where the limits of free speech should be set.

May will probably be asked about the police handling of phone-hacking allegations and the issue of the closeness between the police and the media.

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Blair's time in front of Leveson has come to a close. Towards the end it was less of a grilling more of a cosy fireside chat.

Join us tomorrow when we will hear from education secretary (and former Times journalist) Michael Gove and home secretary Theresa May.

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Lord Justice Leveson just asked Blair what may have been the longest question ever asked. The line that will come as a relief to many was "I have absolutely no interest in imperilling the freedom of the press".

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Tom Watson has posted a quick response on his blog to Blair's answers about his resignation. You can read it here:

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Here is a picture of the protester, named as David Lawley-Wakelin, being led away by police.

blair protest

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@ BBCNormanS : TB extolling the virtues of US papers over UK press. Er..but have u read them ? Dullsville Central #leveson #blair

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Blair is comparing the British media to the US media. He says American papers are capable of having a editorial line while at the same time reporting the "facts" as facts.

The collective response from many British journalists on Twitter is to argue that US papers are "dull".

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Blair has moved on to talk about the nature of news in an era of Twitter and 24-hour news channels. He says there is a "race to the bottom" which is damaging to the political debate.

"These guys have got to say something and they just say the same thing they were saying a few moments ago," he observes.

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Blair says one cabinet minister once came to him to resign as he had read in the newspapers that he was going to be sacked.

He says he had to spend half an hour persuading him that he was never going to be fired in the first place.

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Blair says he sometimes made ministers resigned even though they had done nothing wrong as the press coverage was becoming too damaging.

He specifically cites the second time Peter Mandelson was forced to quit the government.

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Tony Blair is asked about Labour MP Tom Watson, who resigned from his government after calling on him to resign.

"I was prime minister, he had effecievely taken part in the coup in 2006 against a prime minister," Blair says.

Blair says Watson resigned "literally moments" before he fired him. "You can't remain a minister if you called for the PM to go"

Blair says that his allies wanted to "go on the attack" but he said he decided he would have to announce when he would leave No.10 in favour of Gordon Brown.

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Blair says The Sun was "out of order" when it published a full scale attack on Gordon Brown for making errors in a letter he wrote to a British soldier killed in Afghanistan.

In January 2009 the tabloid published a picture of a letter in which the-then prime minister referred to the mother of 20-year-old Jamie Janes as "Mrs James".

Giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, said an "incredibly aggressive and angry" Brown had phoned her to complain and that she sympathised with his view.

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Blair is back up and Leveson is apologising to the former PM for the protester.

He said: "Considerable effort has been taken that all witnesses can give evidence in a safe and secure environment, I regret what has happened and an investigation is being undertaken."

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The inquiry has taken a break for an hour now. Don't worry! Blair will be back from 1pm.

So far the former prime minister has reminded us why he was such an effective operator. Smooth as ever he effectively took control of the proceedings, animated hands and all.

His key message was that he did not do any sort of deal with Rupert Murdoch and that while he would have liked to take on the power of the press he wanted to get on with public service reform.

The other point of note was of course the protestor bursting in, something that is likely to grab the headlines.

A interesting sidebar: While the inquiry has been going on Guido Fawkes has posted this fantastic video of the modern Downing Street press operation at work.

Downing Street's Craig Oliver is captured giving the BBC's chief political correspondent a right telling off.

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Back to the substance of the questioning this is the key line that Blair has been pushing all day: "I don't know a policy that we changes as a result of Rupert Murdoch".

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A video has been posted online of the moment the intruder burst into the court. He begins his tirade with the words: "excuse me, this man is a war criminal". How polite.

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Following the disturbance, Lord justice Leveson ordered an immediate inquiry into how the man gained access.

So that's two inquiries he has running now. Busy man.

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@ JoeWatts_ : Blair was fairly astute to get his rebuttal in straight away. There is no doubt that will be a major part of the story tomorrow.

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@ hopisen : The way Blair rebutted then dryly pointed out to Leveson that a politician has to always be aware of how media will report events was meta.

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The demonstrator shouted at Blair accusing him of taking money from the bank JP Morgan to promote the war in Iraq. After being nailed by security he was dragged from the court.

Blair takes a moment to deny the charge that he is a war criminal - unsurprisingly.

A win for Leveson security there. The judge is furious, in his understated way.

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Perhaps it was inevitable. A protestor has burst into the court room: "The man is a war criminal" he shouts before getting bundled out of the room.

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Blair has returned to why he chose not to 'take on' the media upon coming to office.

"I was not going to have the Labour Party coming back into power with a programme of change for the coutnry and having the centre piece to do with media ownership, I thought that would have been a distraction and wrong," he says.

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Blair says new technology such has Twitter has fundamentally changed the way politics works as stories move much quicker.

"The business of politics has become acutely more difficult," he says.

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Blair tells the inquiry that his "minimum objective" in courting the Murdoch press was to stop it from "taring us to pieces" while the maximum was to get its support.

"I did not change our position on core policy issues at all," Blair says.

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Tony Blair says there was " no deal" with Murdoch on media law in the UK "either express or implied".

"To be fair he never sought such a thing," Blair adds.

Previous Labour witnesses including Alastair Campbell, Lord Mandelson and Tessa Jowell have all been quizzed over whether Blair made a deal with Murdoch to pass legislation favoured by News Corp in exchange for favourable press coverage.

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After a short break Blair is back and now the questioning has moved specifically onto the Murdochs.

Blair says that if Murdoch had decided to "wage war" on New Labour then he would have stood up to him.

"If they had started to treat me as they had Neil Kinnock, I would have fought back in a very tough way," he says.

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Blair says he does not think Rupert Murdoch simply backs the winner. He says the media mogul has "very strong political views" which influence which party he decides his papers should support.

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@ tombradby : Like him or loathe him, Blair is a brilliant performer. There is just no one anywhere near as good on the scene these days.

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Blair says that while he was close to Rebekah Brooks during his time as prime minister that was not the crucial relationship as she did not control the editorial line of The Sun (which she edited).

"Bluntly the decision maker was not Rebekah Brooks," he says. It is clear he means Rupert Murdoch was.

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@ politicshomeuk : Blair: sample of 100 Mail stories between 2005-2007 by his office found all 100 were negative coverage. Follow live at

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Pictures of the Day 28 May 2012
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