Labour has demanded to know whether media mogul Rupert Murdoch exerted any influence on Michael Gove’s return to the Cabinet.
In a letter to Theresa May, Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson asked the Prime Minister to make clear whether the News Corp executive chairman had ever suggested Gove should be given a ministerial job or warned that failure to take his advice might lead to “consequences” in terms of his newspapers’ coverage of her administration.
Gove’s appointment as Environment Secretary just 11 months after May sacked him from the Cabinet was the biggest surprise of Sunday’s post-election reshuffle.
The former education secretary, who stood unsuccessfully against May for the Conservative leadership after clashing with her over the handling of extremism in schools, worked for the News Corp-owned Times before entering politics and returned to the paper following his departure from government last year.
Gove claimed the first interview with Donald Trump in the UK press, published in the Times in January, shortly after the US President’s election. Murdoch was also understood to have been in the room during the interview.
Gove’s return to the Cabinet was seen as a concession to hard Brexiteers to balance the appointment of Remain-backing Damian Green as First Secretary of State.
In his letter, Watson said: “It has been suggested to me that Rupert Murdoch asked you to appoint Michael Gove to the Cabinet.
“Given your failure to secure a parliamentary majority and the consequent weakness of your position, it might be tempting to allow yourself to be influenced by powerful media proprietors who can shape the way your Government is covered.”
In the interests of “transparency and propriety”, Watson said he wanted the Prime Minister to make clear:
- Whether Mr Murdoch had ever made suggestions to her about ministerial or staff appointments
- Whether he had ever suggested Mr Gove should be made a minister
- Whether he had ever suggested “there might be consequences if you fail to take his advice, in terms of his newspapers’ coverage of you and your Government?”
In a cheeky sign-off, Watson ended his letter to May: “Congratulations on your election campaign, by the way. Fantastic stuff, well done.”
May’s official spokesman said he was not aware of Watson’s letter.
He added: “Michael Gove has a wealth of experience in Cabinet and he will be an excellent addition to the team.
“The Prime Minister said yesterday she has brought together a wealth of experience, imagination and energy from across the party and Michael is an important part of that.”
Gove said of Shadow Culture Secretary Watson on BBC Breakfast this morning: “The thing about Tom is he sees Rupert Murdoch’s hand behind everything.
“I think Tom believes Rupert Murdoch picks the England cricket first 11 and the England rugby first 15, as well as deciding on who’s on Britain’s Got Talent.
“I think we can probably say this is par for the course for Tom when it comes to political mischief making.”
Picture: Reuters/Hannah McKay