Labour MPs lobbied against Murdoch BSkyB bid in revenge for poor press coverage


By a Newsnet reporter
Labour MPs were accused of applying “very strong pure political pressure” against the proposed bid for BSkyB by News Corp, emails released by the Leveson inquiry have revealed.
According to the emails, the claim is believed to have made by Lord Oakeshot who was Vince Cable’s main economic advisor at the time the senior Lib Dem MP was arbitrating on News Corporation bid to acquire the remaining 60.9% of BSkyB.

In the email, News Corp’s director of public affairs Fredric Michel describes how he spoke with “Vince’s main economic advisor, who sits in the Lords,”.

Mr Michel that the Lib Dem peer was concerned about what he says was “a very strong pure political pressure from Lib-Dems and Labour over the way the Murdoch press has treated his own party/policies and Labour over last 12 months.”

The email, sent on 27th September 2010, was followed by a similar communication on the 8th October where Mr Michels again claimed to have spoken with an adviser to Cable’s team, who told Mr Michels Labour were briefing against News Corp.

Mr Michels wrote: “Many people around Cable are from the left or Labour and are briefing against us.  We need to engage with them behind the scenes even more.”

Mr Cable’s responsibilities to arbitrate on the deal were removed when in December 2010 he told reporters that he had “declared war” on Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.  The responsibility then fell to Tory Minister Jeremy Hunt.

The suggestion that Labour MPs were lobbying against the Murdoch bid because of poor press coverage will prove embarrassing to Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont.

Last week, Ms Lamont accused Alex Salmond of agreeing to back the BskyB bid after meeting Rupert Murdoch in order to obtain favourable coverage from the tycoon’s newspapers.

The First Minister has denied this and has claimed that he agreed to speak to Jeremy Hunt in order to point out the benefits, should the proposal succeed, to the Scottish economy.  That view was shared by Scottish Lib Dem MSP Jim Tolson, who was also keen for the bid to go ahead for similar economic reasons.

These latest emails follow evidence given by Rupert Murdoch at the Leveson inquiry last week in which he claimed that former PM Gordon Brown threatened to wage war on the Murdoch organisation after it switched allegiance to the Conservatives shortly before the 2010 general election.  Mr Brown has denied Mr Murdoch’s claims.

Mr Brown’s successor, Ed Miliband, shortly after winning the Labour leadership race in September 2010, tried to win back the support of the newspaper.  The new Labour leader was pictured holding copies of the Sun in what was a clear attempt at winning back its support.

Asked about his party’s new policy initiative in April 2011, Mr Miliband replied: “You will read it first in The Sun.”

With Labour in England currently homing in on beleaguered Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt over his own role in the aborted BSkyB bid, things are looking up for Mr Miliband whose party is expected to do well in this week’s local authority elections. 

However in Scotland any suggestion that Labour MPs were motivated, through party political reasons or revenge for poor newspaper coverage, to seek to block a deal that may have led to jobs being created in Scotland will prove uncomfortable for Scottish leader Johann Lamont.