LONDON - Britain's politicians and its powerful media were uncomfortably close while Tony Blair ran the country, a former U.K. minister said Wednesday.
Jack Straw, who held several key posts, told an official inquiry into media ethics that journalists and Blair's Labour Party had forged "very, very close, sometimes incestuous" ties while Blair strived for power, and that those links endured when he became prime minister in 1997.
Blair served as Britain's chief for a decade — handing over to his successor Gordon Brown in 2007.
Current British Prime Minister David Cameron has already acknowledged he developed ties to the media that were "too close" while he was opposition chief.
Straw, who served as foreign secretary, home secretary, and justice secretary, said he believed that newspaper baron Rupert Murdoch, whose holdings extend to television and film, took advantage of his relationships with lawmakers to consolidate his media interests.
"The perception I have got is that Mr. Murdoch is enjoying the fact that he has been willing to play with political leaders in the way that the senior executives of the other papers have not," Straw said.
Straw was testifying before Lord Justice Brian Leveson, who is investigating whether British politicians and newspaper proprietors traded favours — part of a wide-ranging inquiry into media ethics.
The inquiry, set up after the eruption of a scandal over phone hacking and bribery at Murdoch's News of the World tabloid, has heard evidence of frequent meetings and discreet dinners at which top politicians and senior Murdoch executives talked business.
But Murdoch and several senior lieutenants have repeatedly denied asking for favours, either explicit or implied, when weighing which political party or candidate to support.
Straw, a senior member of Britain's opposition Labour Party, also spent time describing his relationship to Murdoch protegee Rebekah Brooks, who used to run the News of the World.
He said the pair took the train to London together weekly, trading gossip and talking about the issues of the day.
Brooks has since become one of the highest-profile casualties of the phone hacking scandal. She, her husband Charlie, and four aides have been charged with conspiring to conceal evidence from officials investigating allegations of wrongdoing at the now-defunct tabloid.
All those involved deny the allegations, but the charges raise the prospect of courtroom disclosures that could embarrass Murdoch — who reportedly thought of her as a daughter — and Prime Minister David Cameron, a friend and neighbour of the Brooks' who often traded text messages with Rebekah and went horse riding with Charlie.