A candidate vying for leadership in the Conservative party met with media tycoon Rupert Murdoch in secret shortly after joining the U.K. Cabinet, but did not disclose it in transparency records.
Kemi Badenoch, the Business and Trade Secretary who is favored by bookmakers to be the next leader of the Conservative Party, had a private meeting with Murdoch and other News Corp executives in New York in September 2022.
Murdoch, who stepped down this month as chairman of Fox and News Corp but retains a hugely powerful role at the media empire, questioned Badenoch for 20 minutes in an atmosphere described as akin to a job interview by one of those in attendance.
According to a source who attended the meeting, Badenoch, who was unexpectedly joined by Murdoch himself, appeared anxious and asked her assistants afterwards, “How did I perform?”
The meeting was not documented in Badenoch’s official record of ministerial meetings.
According to the ministerial code of conduct in the U.K. government, any meetings with newspaper or media owners, editors, and top executives will be made public every three months, regardless of the reason for the meeting.
When POLITICO reached out, a representative from the government referred to the lack of publicity for the Murdoch meeting as an “unintentional mistake” made by officials.
The Department for Business and Trade spokesperson stated that the previous Department for International Trade had made a mistake by not submitting the meeting transparency reports for the Secretary of State in September 2022. They assured that this error will be rectified when the department submits the next transparency report.
The Secretary of State had a planned meeting with News Corp in New York City, as part of her agenda at the Atlantic Future Forum.
The duo has encountered each other once again, when Badenoch attended a gathering in London thrown by the media mogul, along with other Cabinet members, this past summer. According to a source from News UK, Rupert has a fondness for Kemi.
Unfortunately, there has been no additional information released by Badenoch’s department since March 2023 regarding transparency data.
Daniel Bruce, the CEO of Transparency International U.K., expressed disapproval of the cozy interactions between politicians and media owners that resemble fireside conversations.
Bruce stated that it is important for the public to know who is influencing our politicians, particularly if they have ties to the media.
To alleviate concerns that our decision-makers are being swayed by personal agendas, government officials should, at a minimum, fulfill their responsibility to be transparent and publicly reveal their meeting attendees.
Murdoch has a decades-long history of cultivating personal relationships with top politicians in the U.K., the U.S. and Australia.
In preparation for the 1997 election, former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair managed to gain the support of Murdoch’s British newspapers, resulting in a victory for the Labour party. However, in 2009, Murdoch changed his media empire’s alliances to the Conservative Party after being heavily influenced by then-party leader David Cameron. Cameron went on to become Prime Minister the following year.
Writer Michael Wolff, who has written two books on Murdoch, told POLITICO’s Power Play podcast last week that Murdoch sees himself as someone who can “make politicians” and “break politicians” at will.
“Rupert is a cultivator and curator of political talent and he likes a certain kind of politician. He likes a buttoned down, conservative, responsible, economically business-oriented — all of that kind of thing,” Wolff said.
In the Conservative leadership contest in July 2022, Badenoch gained attention for her opposition to “woke” topics, such as the increasing number of transgender bathrooms and the inclusion of “critical race theory” in school curriculum, which made her popular among grassroots members.
After coming in fourth place in the Conservative Party leadership contest, she was granted Cabinet positions by Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak.
According to a recent poll by ConservativeHome, Badenoch is the favored Cabinet member among Conservative party members. They will ultimately decide the next leader when Sunak steps down. It is anticipated that Sunak will step down if the Tories are unsuccessful in the upcoming election, which is predicted to take place in late 2024.