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Kenneth Clarke has suggested that Rupert Murdoch struck a deal with David Cameron ahead of the 2010 election which ensured that his Sun newspaper would back Mr Cameron’s election campaign. It included taking on Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor, as communications director, if he won.

Mr Clarke, the former justice secretary, told the Competition and Markets Authority that The Sun abruptly switched sides from Labour to the Conservatives. “Quite how David Cameron got The Sun out of the hands of Gordon Brown [the former Labour prime minister] I shall never know,” he said. “Rupert would never let Tony [Blair] down because Tony had backed the Iraq war. Maybe it was some sort of a deal. David would not tell me what it was. Suddenly we got the Murdoch empire on our side.”

Mr Clarke was speaking to the CMA alongside Ed Miliband, the former Labour leader, and Sir Vince Cable, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, to voice his opposition to the proposed takeover of Sky by Mr Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox group. The CMA is scrutinising the bid and will deliver a recommendation to Karen Bradley, the culture secretary, in the next few months.

“We won [the election] in 2010 and I found myself justice secretary, lord chancellor,” Mr Clarke told the CMA. “Within a week or two we had got Andy Coulson on board — I think he was Murdoch’s man, that was part of the deal I assume — as the press officer. I am not being totally indiscreet. Nobody seemed bothered by it very much.”

Mr Coulson joined as communications director from the News of the World, where he was editor. Mr Murdoch closed the News of the World a year later in 2011 when it emerged that its journalists had hacked the phone of Milly Dowler, a murdered schoolgirl.

Less than a year after his appointment, Mr Coulson resigned as communications director. In 2014 he was jailed for 18 months for conspiracy to hack phones. He was released from prison after serving just five months.

Mr Clarke said Mr Blair and Mr Cameron knew they needed the support of key newspapers. “Both Blair and Cameron had many rules of how you actually manage the modern media. One was if you want to win an election you have got to have The Sun and if you want to keep in power you have got to have the Daily Mail.”

Mr Clarke also said that Rebekah Brooks, then chief executive of Mr Murdoch’s UK business, had close ties to government. “Within a few weeks of taking over my prime minister arranged a meeting with Rebekah Brooks.” Ms Brooks, he added, “described herself as running the government now in partnership with David Cameron.

“I found myself having an extraordinary meeting with Rebekah who was instructing me on criminal justice policy from now on, as I think she had instructed my predecessor, so far as I could see.” Ms Brooks told Mr Clarke that she wanted him to buy prison ships, he said. “She did accept that the capacity of the prisons was getting rather strained . . . she really was solemnly telling me that we had got to have prison ships. I regarded this as a very amusing conversation and took not the slightest notice. As long as I was justice secretary we would not have any of this.”

The CMA also heard from Mr Miliband, Sir Vince, Lord Falconer and Lord Puttnam. Mr Miliband said giving Mr Murdoch 100 per cent control of Sky would make the broadcaster part of the “unified voice” of his other media outlets.

He pointed to the reaction of Murdoch-controlled outlets in the US to recent news that charges had been filed by Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor investigating Russia’s ties to Donald Trump’s election campaign. “When Robert Mueller filed charges against aides to Donald Trump, the New York Post called for him to go, Fox News called for him to go, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page called for him to go,” he said. “That is not a mainstream view; that is a Murdoch view expressed through his outlets.”

NewsUK declined to comment.

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