A question of judgement
- 24 May 2012
- From the section UK Politics
It was an £8bn bid for control of a media empire.
A politician would have to take the ultimate decision about whether News Corp would be allowed to take full control of BSkyB - whether, in other words, the Murdoch family empire extended its media power.
Vince Cable lost responsibility for that decision when his private views became public after he was recorded by an undercover reporter declaring that "'I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we're going to win".
Yet now we learn that the man who replaced him, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, had expressed equally strident - albeit pro rather than anti Murdoch - views in private in a draft memo to the prime minister, before he took over responsibility for the bid. As the minister responsible for the creative industries he wrote that: "The UK has the chance to lead the way. But if we block it (the bid) our media sector will suffer for years."
This is ammunition for the culture secretary's critics who say his mind was made up to give the Murdochs what they wanted. Before today we knew that Mr Hunt had described himself as a cheerleader for Mr Murdoch's achievements but not that he had so enthusiastically supported the bid. It is ammunition too for those who say the prime minister should never have asked him to take the quasi judicial role in deciding the bid.
When the culture secretary gives his own evidence to the Leveson Inquiry next week he is likely to point to another line in his memo: "It would be totally wrong for the government to get involved in a competition issue which has to be decided at arms length."
In other words, whatever his views he believed in allowing independent regulators - and not himself - the final say on a bid which has become a nightmare for this Coalition government.