George Osborne has denied attending a private meeting with the Murdochs in a Swiss ski resort months before the 2010 general election amid allegations that a deal had been done over the family’s plans to take full control of BSkyB.
The Chancellor told the Leveson Inquiry he had met Rupert and James Murdoch, as well as Rebekah Brooks, in a chalet in Davos at the World Economic Forum but it had been the previous year.
It comes after newspaper reports suggesting a pact was made in January 2010 over News Corporation’s plans for BSkyB. Asked if he had attended a “private meeting” at Davos in January 2010, he replied: “No, it’s not true.”
Mr Osborne said he and David Cameron spent the 2009 meeting “gently” trying to turn the conversation to domestic politics and the looming general election but Rupert Murdoch was more interested in international economics.
Mr Osborne told the inquiry one of James Murdoch’s “bugbears” was the BBC and he raised it repeatedly: “It was more of a complaint that we had in this country a taxpayer-funded state broadcaster. I made it clear to him then that we were not going to change that.”
Mr Osborne said newspapers were partly regulated by the market because customers would stop buying them if they did not agree with the views expressed in them.
“If politicians are seen to be entirely craven to newspapers I think the public sense that and sniff it out,” he added. “I think the public are much smarter in this process than they are sometimes given credit for.”
Mr Osborne’s role in the saga of News Corp’s bid for BSkyB was probed, but the Chancellor insisted he had not had a “strong view about its merits because as far as I could see it was just going to cause us trouble one way or the other”.
Whichever way it went, it was either going to offend one media camp or another, he pointed out: “I regarded the whole thing as a political inconvenience and something we just had to deal with, and the best way to deal with it was to stick to the process.”
He cast himself as “merely an external observer of the process” and said he had had no “specific conversations” about it with either Business Secretary Vince Cable, who was initially responsible for it, or Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who later took over responsibility.
By The Press Association