Martin Hickman: Defending the indefensible proves a tricky job for Hunt

 

Share
Related Topics

Jeremy Hunt had a tricky job: defending the indefensible. Unsurprisingly, he struggled to balance his support for News Corp (Broadcast magazine called him a “cheerleader” for Rupert Murdoch) and his insistence that he impartially judged the mogul’s biggest ever business deal: the £8bn takeover of BSkyB.

From the start, Robert Jay, the Leveson Inquiry’s barrister, was combative.

Damningly, he produced private messages between Mr Hunt and his Government colleagues and News Corp on 21 December 2010, the day his Cabinet colleague Vince Cable was caught declaring war on the Murdoch empire.

By then, the bid had run into a hitch. Although the EU had cleared it, Mr Cable had referred it to the media regulator Ofcom, which wanted to pass it to the Competition Commission, which would have meant a lengthy delay. Mr Cable would clearly have to be stripped of the decision and it was most likely to go to the Culture Secretary, Mr Hunt.

At 12.57pm, Mr Hunt texted James Murdoch saying: “Great news and congrats on Brussels Just Ofcom to go.”

At 4pm, he had a phone call with Mr Murdoch.

At 4.08pm, he texted the Chancellor, George Osborne, to say he was “seriously worried we are going to screw this up.”

At 4.58pm, Mr Osborne texted back: “I hope you like our solution.”

At 5.45pm, the “solution” became clear: the Prime Minister David Cameron handed Mr Hunt control of the bid, despite knowing he had sent a memo to No 10 the previous month giving it his strong support.

How, the inquiry wanted to know, could Mr Hunt have taken the quasi-judicial decision when he was biased in its favour, when Mr Cable had just been stripped of it because of his bias against?

The Culture Secretary admitted he was “broadly sympathetic” to the takeover but, once he had been handed the decision, he maintained he had been thoroughly impartial. He had published all of Ofcom’s independent advice so that the public could be sure that he was a proper judge.

(He was less keen to highlight that, almost straightaway, he rejected Ofcom’s advice to make a referral to the Competition Commission and instead cooked up Undertakings in Lieu – spinning off Sky News into an independent company – which would prevent a referral.)

Mr Hunt had been “scrupulously fair throughout” the bid, he said, because he was aware that his job was “keeping democracy safe”.

How did he explain the warm texts and emails between his special advisor and News Corp’s lobbyist Fred Michel – messages which included phrases such as “game-over for the opposition”? Adam Smith, Mr Hunt said (while admitting his advisor was bright and knew his views) had been overwhelmed by Mr Michel’s advances, sucked into making “inappropriate” comments.

Even more implausibly, the Culture Secretary suggested that it only occurred to him after the Milly Dowler story broke last July that there might be “governance issues” at News Corp.

In January last year, the Metropolitan Police had begun a major criminal inquiry into News Corp’s newspaper group, in April last year News International had admitted its previous hacking inquiries had persistently misled the public, and new hacking victims were bringing new civil cases all the while. A Labour MP had already suggested in Parliament that the voicemail interception had extended to the parents of the Soham children.

Looking awkward, Mr Hunt peppered his replies with pauses and “ums”. No wonder.

@Martin_Hickman is co-author of Dial M for Murdoch

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn