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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 June, 2005, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Morgan holds mirror up to Blair
By Steve Duffy

Piers Morgan at Hay
Morgan opposed the Iraq war 'passionately from the start'
Piers Morgan spoke of private dinners with the Blairs and causing "mayhem" as a tabloid editor at the Hay Festival.

He also said that there were still questions about the fake photos of soldiers abusing an Iraqi prisoner, a year after his sacking by The Mirror.

"We still don't know who took them, why they took them, and what they depict," Morgan said on Tuesday night.

Elsewhere, veteran Labour politician Tony Benn and folk singer Roy Bailey paid tribute to protesters in history.

Morgan, publicising the best-selling Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade, entertained a large crowd with stories of tabloid scoops and nights in with the Blairs.

Stories ranged from an undercover footman in Buckingham Palace taking the Queen's corgis for a walk to hunting down Divine Brown, the prostitute who had been caught with actor Hugh Grant, while Morgan was editing the News of the World.

Of his relationship with the prime minister and his wife Cherie, it included private dinners, including one bizarrely over two bottles of wine after his sacking last May.

"Didn't they know I was writing a book?" he said.

He worked out that he had 56 private meetings with Blair over 10 years, not to mention public events. Of the phone calls, "sometimes you wanted to say, 'come on Eastenders is on'."

"He's (Blair) personally very charming, a nice guy, all things to all men, he wants us all to love him, but because of Iraq he should go, it's time for Gordon Brown."

Morgan said at the Mirror he consistently opposed the Iraq war, even though it led to circulation "falling off a cliff" after troops went into action.

He said: "I care passionately about it - I waged a campaign that didn't sell newspapers. It will go down as one of the most courageous campaigns in British newspaper history."

Piers Morgan at Hay
Rupert Murdoch: "He didn't talk about money he only talked about stories"
Tony Blair: "I think he's the best candidate to be leader of the Tory party... we could hate him without feeling guilty"

Of his sacking for publishing what the newspaper conceded were fake photos of British soldiers abusing an Iraqi, he said: "We still don't know who took them, why they took them, and what they depict...a year later nobody knows."

He said the soldiers who provided the photos did so for comparatively little money and "they still stand by their stories".

"I didn't mind losing my job - maybe Tony Blair or one of the cabinet will have the good grace, after 100,000 Iraqis died, to lose their job."

After a show of hands to confirm his thoughts that there were few Mirror readers among the 1,200 in the audience in the tent, Morgan turned his fire on The Guardian, the festival sponsors.

He said he believed it was a "myth" that tabloids had got worse and said standards in popular newspapers had improved from the 1980s when they were "absolutely lawless".

"I know we've got better - why is The Guardian banging on about it?"

That was The Guardian, "whose sales are falling faster than Abbi Titmuss' knickers" according to Morgan.

"Papers like The Guardian keep saying how disgusting the (tabloid) papers are," he added.

But Morgan said Mirror readers were "decent working class"...not "plankton as The Guardian would have us believe".

Tony Benn - photo copyright Justin Williams
Tony Benn traced dissenting voices from the 14th century to the present day

There was another packed house for Tony Benn and folk singer Roy Bailey, who took it in turns to trace the politics of protest back to medieval times in The Writing On The Wall.

It was billed as a birthday celebration for Benn, who turned 80 in April, but the fires still burned as he read extracts of chronicles and speeches from several centuries.

This was a sort of Grumpy Old Men of radical politics, with middle lane hoggers on motorways replaced by unjust landowners and draconian magistrates.

Bailey sang of Diggers in the 17th Century, conscientious objectors and Ranters, such as Abeizer Coppe.

Benn from the 20th Century quoted a Greenham Common protester in the dock and also writer and women's rights campaigner Rebecca West, who said: "Men will give their seat up on the Tube then under-pay you when you get there."

The Labour veteran said you achieve progress by keeping on and on about something before people regard you as "bonkers", next you're dangerous "until finally they believe they thought of it in the first place".

Editor sacked over 'hoax' photos
14 May 04 |  UK Politics
Profile: Piers Morgan
14 May 04 |  UK
Morgan cleared after shares probe
10 Jun 04 |  Business
Tony Benn: End of an era
10 Mar 01 |  UK News

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