London Mayor Race Hit by Rupert Murdoch Phone Hacking Fallout

1:13 PM PST 05/02/2012 by Stuart Kemp
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Current mayor Boris Johnson and main rival Ken Livingstone have both supported the Film London initiative.

LONDON ­ - Rupert Murdoch, News Corp.'s publishing arm News International and the phone hacking scandal continues to be a hot British political football.

As the sparky campaigning for the London mayoral elections drew to a close Wednesday, with the polls open in the British capital Thursday, incumbent Boris Johnson found himself front and center of evidence surfacing from the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics that Murdoch's news group offered sponsorship for two major projects in 2010.

Murdoch last week told the Leveson Inquiry that some company executives were hiding the extent and breadth of the phone hacking scandal from him and that he didn't have too cozy a relationship with politicians.

Sections of the British media also reminded readers that Johnson told the London Assembly that the hacking disclosures being made in 2010 were "a load of codswallop cooked up by the [opposition] Labour party."

On the eve of the elections, emails between NI execs and Johnson's office released to the Leveson Inquiry revealed that News International was at the time offering Johnson £2 million ($3.6 million) towards a new school in London and talking of donating millions towards a river Thames cable car crossing, a transport solution championed by Johnson at the time.

Johnson's sponsorship dealings with NI began in June 2010, shortly after conservative David Cameron became prime minister. Johnson back then, according to the emails released to the Leveson Inquiry, held a meeting with Rebekah Brooks, then the NI CEO.

Johnson also hit the political headlines earlier this week for getting cross with BBC London's political editor Tim Donovan, saying live on air that questions over his dealings with NI were "fucking bollocks." The colorful language meant the BBC, as the country's public broadcaster, had to apologize on his behalf.

Johnson's main mayoral opponent in the seven-strong field is regarded as being Labour candidate Ken Livingstone, a man who held the post prior to Johnson's election victory in 2008 from when the post was introduced in 2000.

His campaign called on Johnson and his office to "open the books and publish all the email and other contact between him, News International and the Murdochs."

The media fallout from whoever emerges victorious in what is regarded as a largely two-horse race is likely lessened by the fact both candidates have held the office and both have supported the biggest strategies pushed through under both the Labour and conservative coalition governments.

Film London, the government backed agency tasked with attracting investment  from Hollywood and beyond gets 45 percent of its funding from the London mayor's office. That £1.3 million ($2.1 million) is secure through the rest of the year.

Given that it was set up during Livingstone's tenure and maintained by Johnson during his term, insiders are confident that whoever wins will feel that the business arguments to maintain it remain valid.

 

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