Cameron outside the High Court in London after giving evidence at the Leveson inquiry on Thursday. (AFP)
London, June 14: A text message to David Cameron from former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, which some are describing as “cringe-making”, was read out to an embarrassed prime minister when he appeared today before the Leveson inquiry on media ethics.
The SMS, read out in dead pan manner by Robert Jay, QC, the inquiry’s counsel, was sent in 2009 on the eve of Cameron’s key note speech to the Conservative Party conference.
It came only days after The Sun newspaper, of which Brooks was then editor, had announced it was switching its support from Labour to the Tories.
The text, which shows the closeness of the friendship between Brooks and Cameron, said: “I’m so rooting for you tomorrow not just as a proud friend but because professionally we are in this together. Speech of your life? Yes he Cam!”
The start of the message was not given because it contained something personal. Brooks said: “But seriously, I understand the issue with The Times. Let’s discuss over country supper soon.”
It is assumed Cameron, then opposition leader, had disagreed with something that had appeared in The Times, which, like The Sun, was owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News International, along with The Sunday Times and the News of the World (now closed).
Cameron’s critics are alleging there was a pre-election deal between the Tories and Rupert Murdoch’s News International. This was that in return for support for the Tories from the News International stable of newspapers, Cameron would look sympathetically at the bid by Murdoch to buy all of the shares in the satellite television channel, BSkyB, in which his stake then was 39.1 per cent.
Brooks seemed slightly irritated that Cameron had failed to show up for a News International party she had organised. Her text was a response to Cameron’s apology for his no show.
“On the party it was because I had asked a number of NI people to Manchester post endorsement and they were disappointed not to see you,” Brooks complained.
Referring to his wife, Samantha, she went on: “But as always Sam was wonderful (and I thought it was OEs that were charm personified).”
“OE” is an abbreviation for Old Etonians since Cameron and Brooks’ husband, racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, were contemporaries at Eton College.
The once powerful Rebekah and Charlie Brooks made their first appearance in court yesterday, having been charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice over the phone hacking scandal. She wore Louboutin high heels to show she was kicking and alive.
Cameron spent the whole day today before Leveson being closely questioned at the very inquiry he had set up as a result of the phone hacking scandal at News International.
Observers were agreed the prime minister performed well during the morning session but later appeared uncomfortable as Jay, as polite as ever, kept coming back again and again with his questions.
This is the opposite of what happens in India where some of the most powerful politicians in the land either do not think it necessary to meet the media, preferring to take crucial decisions behind closed doors, or storm out of public meetings if they are asked a question that is not to their taste.
Asked to explain the text from Brooks, Cameron was not entire convincing.
"The Sun had made this decision to back the Conservatives, to part company with Labour,” he said. “The Sun wanted to make sure it was helping the Conservative Party put its best foot forward with the policies we were announcing, the speech I was making. That’s what that means. We were friends. But professionally, me as leader of the Conservative Party, her in newspapers, we were going to be pushing the same political agenda.”
It was more than slightly demeaning for the prime minister to be asked how often he met Brooks socially.
“I do not think every weekend, I do not think most weekends. But it would depend,” he said vaguely.
After the lunch break he came back with a better answer.
“I gave a rather vague answer about the issue of social contact between myself, my wife and Rebekah and Charlie Brooks,” said Cameron. “Mrs Cameron keeps a rather better weekend diary than I do.”
Her diary suggested the Camerons were “in the constituency” in Oxfordshire 23 weekends in 2009 and 15 in 2010.
As for contact with the Brooks, Cameron added: “We probably did not see them more than once every six weeks.”
Lord Justice Leveson murmured: “The great value of wives, Prime Minister.”
Cameron was also asked about his appointment of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his director of communications and his decision to give responsibility for overseeing Murdoch’s bid to buy BSkyB to the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt. It subsequently came out that although Hunt was meant to be impartial in his quasi-judicial role, he had already written to the prime minister expressing strong support for Murdoch’s bid.
Cameron dismissed the allegation made by former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown in the latter’s evidence that Cameron and Murdoch had made a deal.
Cameron said Brown had been “very angry and disappointed” at the decision of The Sun to switch support from Labour ahead of the 2010 general election. “He has cooked up a specious and unjustified conspiracy theory to justify his anger.”
He said there had been neither overt deals, covert deals, and no “nods and winks” and no question of “trading policies for that support”.