Leading article: No amount of squirming can save Jeremy Hunt

This was no single incident, but an entire relationship of staggering impropriety

Share
Related Topics

The Leveson Inquiry's exposure of endemic bribery of police and public officials by some News International journalists was shocking enough. But yesterday's revelations of what appears to be a "back channel" between the media group and the cabinet minister charged with ruling on its highly controversial plan to take over BSkyB cast even that into the shade. In the circumstances, the position of the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is untenable. He must resign.

The picture painted by the 163 pages of emails handed over by News International as James Murdoch took to the witness stand yesterday is a highly disturbing one. The documents suggest an almost daily contact between Mr Hunt's office and News Corp's head of public affairs, Fréd Michel, providing a running commentary on the progress of the £8bn BSkyB deal.

According to Mr Michel, Mr Hunt's office told him that the Government would be "supportive throughout the process", cooked up a plan that would mean "game over for the opposition", and even leaked information ahead of a statement by Mr Hunt to Parliament, with an (apparently joking) aside that such practices were "absolutely illegal".

Given that Mr Hunt had the quasi-judicial task of ruling on a corporate takeover that would materially affect not only the company itself, but Britain's entire media landscape – with all that that implies – it is difficult to overstate the seriousness of yesterday's revelations. It is one thing for a lobbyist to put their employer's case, and for government ministers and officials to hear it. But what has been exposed here is something else entirely; indeed it looks little short of collusion. Even worse, Mr Hunt was only given the responsibility after Vince Cable was caught out by a newspaper sting boasting that he had "declared war on Rupert Murdoch" and removed from the role because of his perceived bias.

The Culture Secretary must now show he was not biased the other way.

Mr Michel stated explicitly that the "JH" in the emails was shorthand for the cabinet minister's office, rather than the man himself. And Mr Hunt will be at pains to prove not only that he never had any dealings with Mr Michel, but that he took legal counsel throughout, and that either his political advisers went too far, or the lobbyist was wildly exaggerating to his bosses, or both. Indeed, Mr Hunt's statement last night claimed discrepancies in Mr Michel's evidence. The Culture Secretary also said he was confident the public would see he conducted the process with "scrupulous fairness".

In fact, the minutiae do not matter. Even if Mr Hunt was not in direct contact with News International himself, he must take responsibility for the wholly inappropriate activities of his staff. After all, this was no single incident, this was pages and pages of emails, an entire relationship of such staggering impropriety as to leave Mr Hunt yesterday charged with acting as a "cheerleader" for News Corp within the Government. Fair or not, the damage is done and he cannot credibly continue in the job.

The Prime Minister was last night sticking to the line that he has full confidence in his Culture Secretary. That this is the same David Cameron who, before the election, warned that corporate lobbying was "the next big scandal"only adds to the sense of – in Mr Cameron's own words – "a cosy club at the top making decisions in their own interest". And Mr Murdoch's admission yesterday that he did briefly mention the takeover to the Prime Minister, at a dinner held by Rebekah Brooks, hardly helps.

For all yesterday's dirt, there may yet be more to come. When Rupert Murdoch follows his son to the witness stand at Leveson this morning, he may take the opportunity to turn the tables on the political class that has tried so hard to hang him out to dry. Either way, if Mr Hunt will not resign, Mr Cameron has no option but to sack him.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A sculpture illustrating the WW1 Christmas Truce football match in Liverpool  

It's been 100 years since the Christmas Truce, but football is still changing the world

Jim Murphy and Dan Jarvis
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there