London: Media baron Rupert Murdoch tried to persuade former Conservative prime minster John Major to change his policy on Europe in return for support from his newspapers, an inquiry into press standards heard on Tuesday.
Speaking at the Leveson inquiry, John Major, whose tenure as British prime minster lasted between 1990 and 1997, said the founder of News Corporation had met him in 1997, asking him to change his stance on Europe.
A file photo of former British Prime Minister John Major (Reuters)
“Just before the 1997 election it was suggested to me to try to get closer to the Murdoch press and I agreed that I would invite Mr Murdoch to dinner and we did have dinner in February 1997,” Major told the inquiry.
“The dinner would have contained the usual amount of political gossip that these occasions tend to have.”
“It became apparent in discussion that Mr Murdoch said that he didn’t like our European policies and wished me to change our European policies. If we couldn’t change those policies he could not and would not support the government.
“It is not often someone sits in front of a prime minister and says to a prime minister: ‘I would like you to change your policy or my organisation cannot support you´,” Major added.
He said he thought Murdoch was “edging towards” a referendum on leaving the European Union.
But he did not change his views after pressure from Murdoch.
“I made it pretty clear we weren’t going to change our policies and we moved on to other matters,” he added.
In April, Murdoch told the inquiry: “I have never asked a prime minister for anything.”
Major said he met Conrad Black, former owner of the Daily Telegraph, six times in seven years, and Murdoch three times in seven years.
The Conservatives lost the 1997 election to a resurgent Labour party under Tony Blair who was supported by Murdoch titles The Sun, Britain’s biggest-selling daily, and the now-defunct News of the World.
Labour Leader Ed Miliband and his deputy Harriet Harman were appearing before the inquiry later on Tuesday.