The role of newspapers like the Sun in offering “implacable support” for Tony Blair’s backing of the American-led invasion of Iraq was cited at the Leveson Inquiry as an example of how the Murdoch press was required to reflect the political views of its proprietor.
Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, told Lord Justice Leveson (6.2.2012) that he valued his “total freedom” as an editor – unlike the editors of The Times, Sunday Times, Sun and News of the World who had to follow the “strong views” which Rupert Murdoch communicated to them.
Dacre claimed that Blair, as Prime Minister, would have been unable to commit the use of British forces in the Iraq War “without the implacable support provided by the Murdoch newspapers...and that came from Murdoch himself.”
Evidence which backed up Dacre’s claim – although not referred to at the inquiry – was obtained by the Glasgow Media Group in October 2008 as a result of requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
Extracts from telephone conversations between Murdoch and Blair revealed the depth of Murdoch’s commitment to support the British Prime Minister.
The claim by Paul Dacre that without the backing of the Murdoch press Blair would have been unable to sustain the use of British forces supporting the US invasion of Iraq was made during persistent questioning by the Inquiry’s counsel, Robert Jay, QC.
Dacre insisted that he was probably unlike other editors in Fleet Street because he was not subjected to interference by his proprietor. “I have worked for the Rothermere family for twenty-two years...for the present Lord Rothermere and his father because they allow me total freedom.”
Dacre said that although Rupert Murdoch was a great proprietor, who now faced “deep problems”, he had always communicated his own “strong views” to his editors.
The whole issue of the degree to which there is contact between Prime Ministers and newspaper proprietors and editors is one which Lord Justice Leveson has been asked to investigate and in response to another question, Dacre agreed that his own relationship with the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown was better than with Blair.
But Dacre said it was preposterous to suggest he had ever felt he could exercise influence over Brown or the former Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw whom had known since their days at university.
His involvement with Brown was as a result of being asked to assist with an inquiry into the thirty-year rule for the release of state papers which was reduced, as a result of their recommendation, to twenty years. “I was very proud that reduction was introduced into law.”
Dacre’s criticism of Murdoch for influencing the line taken by his editors has highlighted one of the few on-the-record examples of the collusion between the Murdoch press and Blair.
His claim that Blair could not have gone to war in Iraq without Murdoch's support is given credence by extracts from previously undisclosed telephone calls between the two men which were revealed in 2008. In one conversation, in January 1998 Blair told Murdoch that he was “instinctively sympathetic” to Murdoch’s plans to get European Union support for the expansion of Sky’s interactive television services.
The call that provided documentary evidence to support Dacre’s claim took place in July 2002, in the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Murdoch told Blair that he was “deeply preoccupied at the time with attempting to launch a Sky-like channel in Italy.”
The Downing Street note of the conversation then added: “He (Murdoch) praised the Prime Minister for his position on Iraq and said that his newspapers would strongly support the government on Iraq and foreign policy.”
If the front pages of the Sun are any guide the unstinting support of the Murdoch press for the involvement of British troops in the Iraq War was never in doubt.