The Guardian reports: Sir John Major has claimed Rupert Murdoch demanded his government change its policy on Europe or his papers would oppose him at the 1997 general election.
The former Conservative prime minister told the Leveson inquiry on Tuesday that Murdoch delivered the ultimatum at a private meeting with the News Corporation founder on 2 February 1997, three months before the election in which the Tories lost heavily to New Labour.
Major’s claim appears to contradict Murdoch’s own evidence to the inquiry. Murdoch told Leveson on 25 April that “I have never asked a prime minister for anything.”
In his witness statement to the inquiry Major said he assumed Murdoch meant that “he has never asked for anything that would benefit him personally or his company”. “In my very limited contact with Mr Murdoch his statement is on a strict interpretation literally true,” he added.
“Certainly he never asked for anything directly from me but he was not averse to pressing for policy changes. In the runup to the 1997 general election in my third and last meeting with him on 2 February 1997 he made it clear that he disliked my European policies which he wished me to change.
“If not, his papers could not and would not support the Conservative government. So far as I recall he made no mention of editorial independence but referred to all his papers as ‘we’.
“Both Mr Murdoch and I kept our word. I made no change in policy and Mr Murdoch’s titles did indeed oppose the Conservative party. It came as no surprise to me when soon after our meeting the Sun newspaper announced its support for Labour.”
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