What was it about the relationship with Murdoch that made Tony Blair feel it was appropriate to take a phone call from a newspaper proprietor just hours prior to the most momentous decision a prime minister can make: ordering the country's armed forces to war?
By Robin Beste
Stop the War Coalition
18 July 2011
When Rupert Murdoch appears before the parliamentary committee on 19 July 2011, here are ten questions the MPs certainly will not ask about the relationhip he had with Tony Blair during the run up to the Iraq war, when Murdoch was, in the words of Blair's former press officer Lance Price, "the third most powerful figure in the Labour government", after Blair himself and Gordon Brown.
- In 2002-3 all of your 127 newspapers around the world, with a combined circulation of 40 million a week, supported the Iraq war. We now know you were often in direct contact with the then prime minister Tony Blair, who you said at the time was "extraordinarily courageous and strong" and who had "shown great guts" in planning the war on Iraq. How much coordination was there between Downing Street and News International on the media presentation of what was widely regarded as an illegal war?
- You said when interviewed in the run up to the war that Iraq's oil was central to the rationale for overthrowing Saddam Hussein: "The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy...would be $20 a barrel for oil. That's bigger than any tax cut in any country." Tony Blair always insisted in public that Iraq's oil played no part in the decision to attack Iraq. To what extent did he agree with you in private that getting control of the world's second biggest oil reserves was at the heart of the war aims?
- All of your newspapers used Tony Blair's "dodgy dossier" of September 2002 to try and generate a war fever with the bogus claim that -- in the words of The Sun headline -- "BRITS 45 MINUTES FROM DOOM". The hand of Alistair Campbell, Blair's press officer, is widely regarded as having been responsible for the dossier's fabrications. There was no coverage in the Sun or the rest of News International's outlets, when it was revealed that some of this dossier, which was supposed to present a cast iron case for attacking Iraq, was drawn from a 12-year old thesis, published on the internet by a PhD student. Was this because you and Blair made a pact that News International would be relentless in promoting the war, even if this meant using lies and distortion?
- You spoke to Tony Blair by telephone on 11 March 2003, after the announcement by the then French prime minister Jacques Chirac that France would veto a second United Nations resolution sanctioning war against Iraq. Blair was banking on this resolution to help sell a war that was opposed by an overwhelming majority of the British public. The next day, the Sun wrote, "Like a cheap tart who puts price before principle, money before honour, Jacques Chirac struts the streets of shame. The French President's vow to veto the second resolution at the United Nations - whatever it says - puts him right in the gutter." To what extent did your conversation with Blair influence the co-ordinated attack on Chirac across all of your newspapers?
- You spoke again with Blair on 13 March 2003. The next day, the Sun intensified its vitriolic abuse of Chirac: "Charlatan Jacques Chirac is basking in cheap applause for his 'Save Saddam' campaign - but his treachery will cost his people dear. This grandstanding egomaniac has inflicted irreparable damage on some of the most important yet fragile structures of international order." Did your conversation with Tony Blair reveal that the "grandstanding egomaniac" and "damage to the structures of international order" may have been more appropriately applied to him rather than to Chirac?
- Your third phone call with Tony Blair within nine days took place on 19 March 2003, the day before the Iraq war started. What was it about the relationship you had with Tony Blair that made him feel it was appropriate to take a phone call from a newspaper proprietor just hours prior to the most momentous decision a prime minister can make: ordering the country's armed forces to war?
- When the United Nations inspectors under Hans Blix could find no evidence of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, the coverage in your newspapers bordered on hysteria -- "HE'S GOT 'EM. LET'S GET HIM" screamed the Sun headline. When it was later shown beyond dispute that the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq never existed, did you not feel that News International should have issued an apology for promoting a lie to justify an illegal war?
- You spoke to Tony Blair on January 29, 2004. This was the day after the Sun leaked extracts from the Hutton Report into the death of government scientist David Kelly, who had been hounded to suicide by Alistair Campbell and the Blair spin machine. Kelly had been revealed -- almost certainly by a leak from Blair's office -- as the source of the BBC report that said the case for war had been "sexed up" in the "dodgy dossier". The Hutton Report, since thoroughly discredited as a whitewash, said Blair and Campbell were -- in the Sun's words -- "completely cleared of criticism". No such fate for the chairman of the BBC Greg Dyke and chairman of the BBC governors Gavyn Davies, both of whom resigned, as Blair, Campbell and your newspapers took the opportunity to savage the BBC for broadcasting the "sexed up" claim. When you spoke to Tony Blair on 29 January, were you both gloating over a spin job well done through the leaking of the Hutton report to the Sun, arranged we must assume between Alistair Campbell and Rebekah Wade (now Brooks), who was then editor of the paper?
- You are renowned for putting the interests and the profits of your media empire above all other considerations. What payoff did News International get from Tony Blair for the unqualified support it gave for his illegal war in Iraq?
- Over one million people were killed in Iraq. Another four million were made refugees by the war. The country's infrastructure was so devastated that even today, electricity is rationed for many Iraqis, many still do not have access to clean drinking water or a functioning sewage system, and the health service, which was once the most advanced in the region, now struggles to provide a decent level of care. I79 British soldiers were killed and hundreds more suffered life changing injuries. As a direct result of the war, Britain suffered terrorist atrocities on 7 July 2005, in which 52 people were killed. Does your conscience ever regret the key part that you and your newspapers played in promoting an illegal war which has brought such death and destruction to the Iraqi people, unbearable bereavement to the families of British soldiers sent to kill and be killed for a lie, and increased insecurity from the threat of terrorist attack to the people of Britain?