Leaders 'too close' to Murdoch

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown may have grown "closer than was wise" to Rupert Murdoch, former Labour cabinet minister Lord Mandelson acknowledged, although the former business secretary denied there had been any "Faustian" pact between Labour and the media baron.

But, in evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, Lord Mandelson said the amount of personal contact between the two prime ministers and Mr Murdoch led to "adverse" comment.

He suggested the same was true of current Prime Minister, David Cameron, and other Conservative leaders.

"As far as the Labour Party is concerned, I do not believe, generally speaking, that the public interest was subordinated to the party's interests in seeking good relations with News International," he said in his written evidence. "I reject the view that, under either Mr Blair or Mr Brown, some sort of Faustian pact was forged between the government and Rupert Murdoch involving commercial concessions to him in return for support from his newspapers."

He claimed that "the contrary" was the case.

But he went on: "It is also arguably the case, however, that personal relationships between Mr Blair, Mr Brown and Rupert Murdoch became closer than was wise in view of the adverse inference drawn from the number of meetings and contacts they had. The same, I am sure, can be said for Mr Cameron and, no doubt, his predecessors."

Lord Mandelson said Mr Blair sought to "reassure" The Sun over issues like Europe to put to rest the "famously bad relationship" between News International and Labour in the 1980s and early 1990s.

"What we all wanted to do in the 1990s, should we ever have any hope of winning a general election again - and by that time we had lost three or four - we didn't want to make permanent enemies of News International," he told the inquiry. "Dialogues were opened" with journalists, editors and executives, "including the proprietor", Lord Mandelson said, adding: "I don't think that's unreasonable."

Former culture secretary Tessa Jowell disclosed earlier that she sought an assurance from Mr Blair that he had made no deal with Mr Murdoch on media regulation when she was appointed to the job.

Ms Jowell said the then prime minister promised her in June 2001 there was "no prior agreement" with the media baron.