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
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A press image from the company  

If men are so obsessed by their genitals, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities of sex?

Chloë Hamilton
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory