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

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

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

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager - Part Time

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital agency based in Ashford, Ke...

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Marketing Executive

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent