Leading article: The Prime Minister has questions to answer, too

Mr Hunt's unequivocal support for News Corp should surely have rung alarm bells

Share
Related Topics

From the testimony of News Corp's top lobbyist to the Leveson Inquiry yesterday it is clearer than ever that Jeremy Hunt cannot defend his position in the Government. And the whiff of impropriety attached to his supposedly impartial review of the Murdochs' bid for BSkyB is drifting closer to the Prime Minister by the day.

First, Mr Hunt. Fréd Michel denied that the contact between him and Mr Hunt's office over the highly controversial deal was inappropriate. He also denied that their communications constituted a "back channel". Most important of all, he refused to admit that the weight of evidence – drawn from a welter of emails and text messages – suggested that the Secretary of State's views were tilted News Corp's way. But he hardly needed to.

Although Mr Hunt excused himself from direct contact with the company when he took over quasi-judicial oversight of the bid, the volume of contact between Mr Michel and Adam Smith – the special adviser who resigned when the scandal broke last month – was truly staggering. In only slightly more than a year, both before and after Mr Hunt became the arbiter of the deal, nearly 200 phone calls, more than 150 emails and in excess of 1,000 text messages passed between News Corp and the Department, the vast majority of them between Mr Michel and Mr Smith. On so complex an issue, some contact is to be expected. But this is something else entirely, including requests for opponents' documents, early steers on ministerial thinking and advice on how to tackle the recalcitrant regulator. No amount of bluster and buck-passing from Mr Hunt can hope to answer the questions raised.

The Culture Secretary and his supporters still hope to discredit Mr Michel with the claim that his reports to his superiors were largely the puff and posturing of the public relations professional. Mr Smith's testimony to the inquiry – the bulk of which will be today – will no doubt dispute Mr Michel's repeated assertions yesterday that he would not have mentioned issues to his News Corp bosses that had not been discussed with Mr Hunt's office. The back-and-forth of who said what, and what they meant, matters little, however. The principle is enough.

Mr Michel did his job well, pushing as hard as he could on all available doors. It was up to the Department to push back as necessary, and it manifestly failed to do so. Neither is it sufficient to claim that Mr Smith went beyond his brief. The deal on the table was set to re-shape Britain's media landscape, and it came against the backdrop of the growing investigation into phone hacking. Either Mr Hunt was complicit in his subordinate's excesses, or he was catastrophically dilatory in his management. Regardless of which it was, he is not fit for office.

But the Culture Secretary is no longer the only one under fire. David Cameron is also increasingly exposed. An email from the Culture Secretary to the Prime Minister revealed at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday makes unmistakeably clear Mr Hunt's support for News Corp's proposal. Sent just a month before Vince Cable was revealed by a newspaper sting to be parti pris, the email cannot but spark accusations that one cabinet minister deemed to take the wrong line was replaced by one with more acceptable views. Indeed, at the very least it suggests the Prime Minister was not paying much attention, despite the far-reaching implications of the decision to be made.

Thus far, Mr Cameron has protected his Culture Secretary, in an attempt to shield himself from the fallout of so high profile a departure. Always an unedifying spectacle, such manoeuvrings are no longer viable. Mr Hunt must go. And Mr Cameron must explain why he was considered appropriate to take on the BSkyB bid in the first place.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
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
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
King Abdullah made Saudi Arabia prosperous but had absolute disregard for what liberal Westerners would view as basic human rights  

The media cannot ignore tricky questions when someone dies - but it must stick to the facts

Will Gore
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
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us