Former British secretary of state for justice Jack Straw told the Leveson inquiry on Wednesday that he regularly sat with then-Sun editor Rebekah Brooks to “gossip about personalities” and “what was in the papers” as they took the hour-long journey from Charlbury in West Oxfordshire to London.
Straw said his media policy was “don’t have favorites” because politicians were like “shares,” insofar as when they get too close to journalists, their price is “overvalued and there is then a crash.”
He told Lord Justice Leveson he was an old friend, from his university days, with Daily Mail -editor-in-chief Paul Dacre, who was one of Labour’s fiercest critics in the national press, but in contrast with Brooks, he only met Dacre about once a year.
Straw, who was one of former British prime minister Tony Blair’s closest allies as home secretary, held the justice portfolio from 2007 to 2010.
He said the commuting arrangement with Brooks “stopped when she became chief executive of News International” in 2009.
Asked what they used to discuss, he said: “We would talk about what was in the papers, what was the gossip about personalities, that sort of thing.”
However, he added that they could never get into too confidential a discussion because it was a busy commuter line.
He remained a friend of Brooks and was one of several top politicians at her wedding to Charlie Brooks in June 2009, along with British Prime Minister David Cameron and then-British prime minister Gordon Brown.
Earlier, the inquiry heard how the Sun had been “ruthlessly hostile” to the Labour Party and that owner Rupert Murdoch enjoyed playing “a power game” with politicians, according to Straw.
Unlike other witnesses, such as Tony Blair’s former director of communications Alastair Campbell, who testified earlier this week that the Sun backed Labour because it was a winner, Straw said the News International tabloid did have the power to make or break politicians’ fortunes.
“Few of us who took part, for example, in the 1992 general election are in any doubt that the Sun’s approach lost us seats. That was the purpose [of the hostile coverage] and it is disingenuous for anyone to deny it,” Straw said.
He said he had a run-in with Brooks when, as editor of the News of the World, she launched the campaign for “Sarah’s law,” and he was home secretary.
“I felt there were better ways of controlling the predatory instincts of sex offenders than having them bluntly subject to a mob outside their doors,” he added.
Newspapers should “calm down about the effects of autonomy from politicians” and acknowledge that statutory regulation would not be state control. That was “nonsense,” Straw said.
“As [former British prime minister] John Major famously said: ‘The only people who have never made a mistake are the people who have never made a decision.’ To which I would simply add: They are called journalists,” he said.
Straw told Leveson he was in favor of radical reform of press regulation, which had “palpably failed” over the past 50 years.