Thatcher views 'appealed to editors'

Tue, Jun 12, 2012, 01:00

Former British prime minister John Major is giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards in London day.

Mr Major told the inquiry that former conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher admired “buccaneering businessmen” who were prepared to take risks.

He said newspaper proprietors fell into that “buccaneering” category. "I think she admired buccaneering businessmen who were prepared to take risks. And that certainly applied to proprietors of newspapers,” he said.

He said Mrs Thatcher’s policies on issues such as trade union reform and Europe appealed to most national newspapers.

“Margaret was probably the most right of centre leader the conservative party had had for a long time,” said Mr Major, who left office in 1997. “I think that appealed to national newspaper editors and proprietors.”

The former prime minister dismissed a Kelvin MacKenzie anecdote about a conversation the two men had at the height of the exchange rate mechanism crisis, dubbed Black Wednesday, in 1992.

The former Sun editor claims, when asked about how the newspaper would be covering the story, he said: “Well, John, let me put it this way - I’ve got a large bucket of shit lying on my desk and tomorrow morning I’m going to pour it all over your head.”

Mr Major told the inquiry it had been the only time he had telephoned Mr MacKenzie, adding: “I was certainly never going to do so again.”

He said the story had acquired a “mythical” status but insisted he remembered no such phrase being used. “I have read the alleged conversation with a degree of wonder and surprise.I frankly can’t recall the bit that has entered mythology. I’m sure I would not have forgotten that but I don’t recall it.”

He admitted he had personally struggled with the negative press coverage he had received during his time in office.Asked if it was true he had been “too sensitive” at the time, he replied: “It certainly would be. I would not deny that at all. I was much too sensitive from time to time about what the press wrote. God knows why I was but I was."

“It was a basic human emotion to get a bit ratty about it.”

He added: “The press to me at the time was a source of wonder. I woke up each morning and I opened the morning papers and I learned what I thought, what I didn’t think, what I said, what I hadn’t said, what I was about to do, what I wasn’t about to do.”

Mr Major added that he thought too close a relationship with the press was “rather undignified”.

Mr Major said he had dinner with Mr Murdoch on February 2nd 1997. "Just before the 1997 election it was suggested to me I ought to try to make some effort to get closer to the Murdoch papers,” he said. “I agreed I would invite Mr Murdoch to dinner.”

He said he thought Mr Murdoch was “edging towards” a referendum on leaving the European Union after raising the European policy issue. He said the discussion was one he was unlikely to forget.

“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,' he said. “It is unlikely to be something I would have forgotten.”

Sir John said he met Mr Murdoch three times during his premiership - in 1992, 1993 and 1997.

Labour leader Ed Miliband also gave evidence to the inquiry today. He became a strong critic of Rupert Murdoch’s News International after the scale of the News of the World phone-hacking allegations emerged last summer.

But he has had a string of contacts with News International executives since becoming Labour leader.

PA