THE Leveson Inquiry's probing into the murky relationships between politicians and the press reached into the very heart of government yesterday.
It was a day of politically charged evidence in which political foes Gordon Brown and George Osborne both attempted to do the same thing: distance themselves and their parties from the Murdoch empire. The present Chancellor rather than the former one probably won on points but both New Labour and the Conservatives have been damaged by the light that has been shone on a metropolitan elite and the machinations of its networks of power and influence.
On show were the anger and anguish of Mr Brown, who feels betrayed by the Sun's revelations about his son's medical condition and undermined by the Murdoch papers' campaign that portrayed him as incompetent and uncaring in relation to the war in Afghanistan and British casualties. This was payback time against a media baron who had turned on him. In sworn evidence he virtually accused Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks of lying on oath but the power of his evidence was weakened by his admission that even after the story about his son, he and his wife continued to curry favour with the Murdoch family.
Also, his insinuation that his staff did not engage in vicious anonymous briefings frankly lacked credibility. It is well known in the parliamentary lobby that if he felt under attack, he was prepared to fight back.
Mr Osborne chose to play a straight bat, insisting that he accepted Andy Coulson's assurances that he had not been involved in phone hacking at the News of the World and that he regarded the Murdoch £8bn bid for BSkyB as a "political inconvenience". Those who allege a deal was struck before the last General Election to smooth the path for the Murdoch take-over in return for support from the Murdoch press seem no nearer to proving their case.
However, what is clear from the evidence of both Mr Brown and Mr Osborne, as well as many other witnesses to this inquiry, is that politicians were desperate to have the Murdochs on their side, even if the word "deal" never passed between them. Over the past 20 years or so webs of influence and mutual back-scratching have tainted relations between politicians and the press and News Corporation was at the heart of this process. The lobby system, special advisers and party funding all have cases to answer. This inquiry offers an opportunity to return to a more transparent and dignified relationship between those who govern us and the Fourth Estate.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.