Leveson Inquiry: BSkyB conspiracy is nonsense, says Osborne
- 11 June 2012
- From the section UK
Chancellor George Osborne has said it would be "complete nonsense" to believe there was a "vast conspiracy" to hand control of BSkyB to Rupert Murdoch.
He told the Leveson Inquiry that News Corp's £8bn bid for the broadcaster had been a "political inconvenience".
He said he did not know what Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's or PM David Cameron's views were on it.
He also defended ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson's appointment as Tory party director of communications.
Mr Osborne told the inquiry at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London that Rupert Murdoch's papers pursued their own objectives.
He said that, however the BSkyB bid ended, it would have offended at least one media camp.
"I regarded the whole thing as a political inconvenience and something we just had to deal with," he said.
He said it was a myth to believe that no party could win a general election without the backing of the Sun newspaper.
Mr Osborne also dismissed suggestions of a conspiracy around Business Secretary Vince Cable being stripped of responsibility for the BSkyB bid.
Mr Cable had been secretly taped by reporters from the Daily Telegraph saying he "declared war" on Mr Murdoch.
Mr Osborne said: "You have to be a real fantasist to believe that come these events we had knowingly allowed Vince Cable to be secretly recorded, we knowingly told the Telegraph not to publish that information.
"That information then emerges in the middle of the afternoon and we then, all part of this cunning plan, put Mr Hunt in charge. It doesn't stack up."
Later, he defended the part he played in the Conservative decision to hire former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as the party's director of communications.
He said he asked him about phone hacking before hiring him and was reassured by Mr Coulson the scandal was over.
He said, because there had been a criminal court case, he assumed there was "nothing else".
Mr Coulson resigned in January 2007 after the conviction of the paper's royal editor for hacking.
At the time he said coverage of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal had "made it difficult to give the 110% needed in this role".
Mr Osborne told the inquiry: "I was aware and we'd discussed it beforehand internally that hiring him would attract some controversy.
"It's also worth noting that the Press Complaints Commission, subsequently before we had appointed him, said there was no evidence.
"I guess I also had assumed that because there had been a criminal court case... that there was nothing else. But I asked him."
Mr Coulson resigned as the government's director of communications in January 2011 following revelations about illegal phone hacking.
Mr Osborne said Mr Coulson was appointed because of his abilities, not his contacts.
"I have seen people suggest that the reason we hired him was because of his connections with the Murdochs, or Rebekah Brooks or his knowledge of the internal workings of News International," he told the inquiry.
"I can tell you that was not a consideration. What we were interested in hiring is someone who was going to do the job going forward."
He also said he asked then Sun editor Rebekah Brooks her opinion of Mr Coulson "as a professional".
He said whilst he was a friend of Mr Coulson's, he had not "sadly" been able to talk to him for a year.
Mr Coulson was arrested in June 2011 by Metropolitan Police investigating the NoW hacking scandal and later released on bail.
Earlier, the chancellor denied meeting top News Corp executives in a Swiss skiing chalet before the 2010 general election.
He told the inquiry at the Royal Courts of Justice in London there was such a meeting - but it took place in January 2009.
Newspaper reports have suggested a deal had been struck months before the election over the Murdoch's plans to take full control of BSkyB.
They claimed is friendship with Rupert and James Murdoch blossomed during a series of private social gatherings.
Asked if he had attended a "private meeting" at Davos in January 2010, the chancellor said: "No, it's not true."
The chancellor said the chalet meeting with the Murdochs and then Sun editor Rebekah Brooks took place during the World Economic Forum in Davos with David Cameron in attendance.
He said they discussed the domestic political situation, but Rupert Murdoch was more interested in the global financial crisis.
He also recalled several meetings with James Murdoch at which the News Corp executive complained about the BBC.
"It was a more of a complaint that we had in this country a taxpayer-funded state broadcaster, but I made it clear to him then that we were not going to change that," Mr Osborne told the inquiry.
He said the BBC was a particular "bugbear" of Mr Murdochs, but they never discussed Ofcom.