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The Labour Party in the UK has demanded to know whether newspaper 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 her to make clear whether the News Corp executive chairman had ever suggested Mr 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.
Mr Gove’s appointment as Environment Secretary just 11 months after the prime minister sacked him from the Cabinet was the biggest surprise of Sunday’s post-election reshuffle.
The former education secretary, who stood unsuccessfully against Ms 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.
His 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, Mr 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”, Mr 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, Mr Watson ended his letter to Ms May: “Congratulations on your election campaign, by the way. Fantastic stuff, well done.”