Lord Mandelson has denied a “Faustian pact” between the Labour government and Rupert Murdoch.
The politician, who held several senior positions under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, told the Leveson Inquiry the opposite was often true.
In his written statement to the inquiry, he said: “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 told the inquiry during his oral evidence that Labour welcomed the support of Murdoch’s papers but did not make concessions to his commercial interests. He went on to criticise David Cameron for making a “deliberate” attack on broadcast regulator Ofcom “which News International wanted to see swept off the board”.
Mandelson said he declined a dinner invitation from Murdoch in 2010 but agreed to meet him to discuss claims the Labour government had “declared war” on News Corporation.
He added: “I don’t think there’s any great secret that the government and the Prime Minister were unhappy that after all those years of support of the Sun, the Sun was now gunning for us. [Murdoch] was quite agitated, as he put it, that the government had declared war on his company.
“It’s not something I would have sought or wished for but there we are. They had decided to withdraw their support.”
The former business secretary warned journalists and politicians from becoming too close.
He told the inquiry: “You can be friendly with journalists but journalists are never your friends. I think journalists would probably say the same about politicians. I could recall journalists who became friends but that was rare.
“The problem arises when journalists who expect exclusivity are disappointed, and politicians are disappointed when they expect favourable treatment. That’s why I talk about the boundaries and when you overstep them.”
Mandelson said police had told him the Daily Mirror commissioned private investigator Jonathan Rees – of Southern Investigations – to obtain information on him. His bank account had been targeted, along with details about his brother and surveillance of his elderly mother. Piers Morgan was editor of the newspaper in 1999, when four invoices in relation to Lord Mandelson were sent to the newspaper.
Mandelson described Rebekah Brooks as being “very free with her views”. When asked about his dealings with the former News International chief executive, he said it was “partly true” that the editorial view of the Sun represented Brooks’ view and that of her proprietor. He described her as having “persistence, charm [and] manipulative skills”.
News International executive Les Hinton “didn’t seem to enjoy the fun of the chase like Rebekah did” but frequently lobbied the Labour Party, he said. Mandelson admitted to personal friendship with Elisabeth Murdoch and her husband Matthew Freud, who he described as “a connector rather than a conduit”.
The politician criticised Brooks and James Murdoch over the decision for the Sun to support the Conservative Party during the 2010 election.
He told the inquiry: “To turn the Sun into some Tory fanzine on the flick of a coin between Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch, ‘Shall we do it today? Shall we wait another day?’, it was insulting for Sun readers… I thought they were making fools of themselves.”
He said the “great friendship” between Gordon Brown and Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre was met with “astonishment” and the Mail and Mail on Sunday often avoided criticising him despite not agreeing with policy decisions.
Mandelson later accused former Met officer John Yates of leaking information about the cash-for-honours investigation to the press, saying he heard first-hand from journalists that the former assistant commissioner personally called them.
When questioned by Neil Garnham QC, representing the Met, Mandelson said he would not have made the comments if there were “no foundation”.
He added: “[Journalists] were as surprised as anyone to find themselves on the phone to AC Yates.”
Mandelson provided the inquiry with a letter sent to him by Yates – described as “bullying” – attacking him over the claims.
He criticised Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt for not stopping “inappropriate contact” between his special advisor Adam Smith and News Corp lobbyist Frederic Michel.
He added: “What on earth was a temporary civil servant, a special adviser to a secretary of state, doing texting like that and exchanging messages and information with a corporate lobbyist? If they’d have been in the Department for Business they would have been taken out and shot, in fact they would not have got to that stage.”
Mandelson advised the inquiry to “approach some of the communications that took place with scepticism” after admitting Michel used to work for the think-tank he chairs.
He added: “I don’t want to mislead you, but I am in a difficult position. All I would say is that he was perhaps better at networking than he was dealing with policies. He was better over people than he was on policies. Perhaps he might have been better suited to public relations than lobbying.”
Mandelson closed his evidence by recommending independent regulation of the press with powers to sanction and fine publications.
He said: “If newspapers spent more time looking into corporate misbehaviour and general wrongdoing rather than celebrity tittle-tattle and gossip the country would be a lot better off, their circulation would go up and they would be more profitable.”