British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has accused former Prime Minister Gordon Brown of a hypocritical “rewriting” of history following Brown’s blistering attack on Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
Brown attacked Murdoch’s News International in parliament on Thursday over the News of the World phone hacking scandal, even though as prime minister and Labour Party head he reportedly failed to act on earlier hacking reports — and is said to have had a cozy relationship with Murdoch.
Adding to the hypocrisy, Clegg told the BBC he had been informed that when News of the World Editor Andy Coulson resigned his post over the scandal, the first person to call him and commiserate was Gordon Brown.
Brown, who had made only one brief speech in the House of Commons since losing the prime minister post to Conservative David Cameron in last year’s elections, “ignored the bipartisan atmosphere at Westminster yesterday to deliver a highly political attack on the ‘criminal media nexus’ at News International,” Murdoch’s British publishing corporation, according to Britain’s Daily Mail.
Brown also said the corporation stood “side by side with criminals against our citizens.”
Brown claimed Cameron was “implicated” and accused a Metropolitan Police commissioner of failing to take allegations of hacking and police bribery seriously.
He also claimed that as prime minister he had “no knowledge of systematic criminality” at Murdoch’s media empire.
But Brown had received a report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee early in 2010 regarding hacking by News of the World employees, according to the Daily Mail, which featured a photo showing a smiling Brown and his wife Sarah standing with Rupert Murdoch and his wife Wendi at Murdoch’s annual summer party in 2007.
Brown alleged that Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell talked him out of launching a judicial inquiry into phone hacking last year. Newly released documents show that O’Donnell warned Brown that a phone hacking inquiry would be open to legal challenge.
But officials have insisted that the final decision over whether to launch an investigation rested solely with then-Prime Minister Brown.
Clegg, who is also Minister for Constitutional and Political Reform, said at a press conference on Friday: “I sense the whiff of rewriting history, to be honest. He was prime minister, he was a very powerful chancellor for many years before that, he was at the very apex of politics for 13 years.
“Are we really supposed to believe that for 13 years he was hamstrung by dastardly officials who stopped him doing that? Clearly there were many other things he wanted to do where he was happy to bulldoze opposition but didn’t seek to do so on this particular issue.”
During his Thursday appearance in parliament, Brown refused to answer questions about his own close relationship with News International’s chief executive Rebekah Brooks, who was editor of News of the World between 2000 and 2003 when hacking is said to have occurred. She resigned on Friday.
Media reports disclosed that Brown attended Brooks’ wedding, his wife Sarah helped arrange Brooks’ 40th birthday celebration, and she and members of the Murdoch family were invited to a “slumber party” at Brown’s residence.
Brown insists his relationship with News International has been “neither cozy nor comfortable.”
That suggests another possible reason why Brown has turned on Murdoch. According to the Mail, Brown was furious when the Sun, a News International tabloid, did not back his Labour Party during last year’s elections.
Andrew Neil of the BBC said Brown had vowed revenge against Murdoch, telling him: “I will destroy you.”
Murdoch for his part has defended his company’s handling of the scandal, saying it will recover from any damage caused by the phone-hacking and police bribery allegations. The 80-year-old told The Wall Street Journal — which is owned by his News Corp. — that he is “just getting annoyed” at all the recent negative press.
He also dismissed reports he would sell his U.K. newspapers to stem the scandal, calling the suggestion “pure and total rubbish.”
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