Oliver Wright: Now we know the power of the cosy chat

From private dinners to secret emails - none of it needs to be declared and none is

Share

On 3 March last year, in the middle of News Corp's attempt to take over BSkyB, Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, stood up in Parliament and made the following statement to MPs: "Today we are publishing all the documents relating to all the meetings... all the submissions we received, all the exchanges between my Department and News Corporation. People can thereby judge for themselves whether the process has been completely fair, impartial and above board."

We now know – ironically thanks to News Corp's new policy of devastating transparency – that he was lying. Behind the scenes, hundreds of secret and cosy text messages, emails and phone calls were taking place between Mr Hunt's personal (and political) special adviser and News Corp's chief lobbyist, Fred Michel. None of these was declared. Mr Hunt misled Parliament and, for that alone, he should resign.

But the affair leads to an even more troubling conclusion which calls into question the integrity of the whole Government. In the past 18 months, as one lobbying controversy after another has unfolded, we have been repeatedly assured that "lobbyists may lobby" but they have "no influence" over the decisions of ministers or Government policy. Look, they say, we publish the details of all the meetings in a clear, transparent way. It's "rubbish" that companies like Bell Pottinger have a back door to the heart of Government.

But how can we believe them when we now know they deliberately misled us over one of the most high-profile and sensitive takeovers in recent years. If it could happen there – what on earth is happening with less-scrutinised Government decisions?

Take just two examples. Despite fierce criticism from doctors, this Government has repeatedly refused to legislate to force food companies to reduce sugar, salt and fat content. Nothing to do with lobbying, they say. All our meetings are declared. We just think it's better to work with the industry than against it. And what about planning? Despite uproar from conservationists, the Government pushed plans to bulldoze greenfield sites for houses instead of redeveloping more expensive brownfield sites. Again nothing to do with lobbying, say ministers. All our meetings are declared. No information is released by the Government to suggest that either developers or food companies have had any influence over policy.

Thanks to Mr Hunt, we now know how it's done: secret emails, cosy phone chats and private dinners with special advisers. None of it needs to be declared and none of it is. Before the last election, David Cameron (a former special adviser himself) said lobbying would be the next scandal to hit British politics. He was right. He would know. And now he is also to blame.

o.wright@independent.co.uk

React Now

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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Syrian refugee 'Nora' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country  

Open letter to David Cameron on Syrian refugees: 'Several hundred people' isn't good enough

Independent Voices
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Could Ukip turncoat Amjad Bashir be the Churchill of his day?

Matthew Norman
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project