Leveson Inquiry: The Hunt is on

 

Update added below at 10am

Up until now, Lord Justice Leveson has only held the future of the British press in his hands.

Today, despite all his protests to the contrary, his inquiry may determine the fate of the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

The judge insists that it is not his job to put any minister in the dock and that he certainly will not be giving his verdict on whether there have been any breaches of the ministerial code.

Nevertheless, the prime minister has made it clear that he sees today's hearing as the moment when Mr Hunt must defend his much criticised handling of News Corp's £8bn bid for total control of BSkyB.

The culture secretary has, I'm told, submitted more than 160 pages of internal memos, emails and text message transcripts to the Leveson Inquiry.

I understand that he will insist that, despite having originally been a cheerleader not just for Rupert Murdoch but also for his bid, he acted in ways which frustrated it rather than accelerated it once he was made the minister in charge.

He will claim that he referred it to the broadcasting regulator Ofcom when told by officials that it wasn't necessary to do so.

He is likely to face questions about why he did not follow Ofcom's advice to refer the bid to the Competition Commission.

He is likely to reply that he was given legal advice that he had first to consider News Corp's offer to spin off Sky News so as to deal with so-called plurality issues.

The culture secretary is likely to be asked how he can claim to have been unaware of the scale or nature of the contact between News Corp and his political adviser, Adam Smith - who resigned once his flood of emails and texts were revealed.

I understand that Jeremy Hunt originally believed that his adviser had done nothing wrong and told friends he would resign himself rather than letting a junior official resign for him.

The prime minister shows no sign yet of wanting to force him out - believing that however bad things may now look, Mr Hunt didn't actually do anything wrong or anything which helped the Murdochs and their bid.

Labour argue that - even before today's hearing - it is evident the culture secretary should go as he is in breach of the ministerial code for failing to supervise his adviser, and for misleading the House of Commons when he wrongly asserted he had published all contacts between his department and News Corp - as well as claiming never to have intervened to affect the outcome of the bid.

UPDATE 10am:

It seems increasingly clear that Jeremy Hunt's allies are trying to separate out what he did in handling the bid from how it looked, how he controlled his special adviser and how he handled parliament - ie his quasi judicial role from his ministerial responsibilities.

One reason for this I am hearing is that emails may be released today showing direct contact between Hunt and News Corp after he took responsibility for the bid.

One problem with his defence is that the ministerial code makes clear that perception matters, control of your special adviser matters and so too does giving accurate information to Parliament

 
Nick Robinson, Political editor Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 44.

    19. LabourDestroyedOurFuture
    "I think what is far more worrying is the inability of the Labour Party in opposition to perform its role in an even vaguely mature way. All the country gets from Labour is a lack of credible alternative policies, sniping over minor issues like pasties, and playground name-calling."

    Totally agree. Ed Balls' childish behaviour at PMQ's blights politicians ever more

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 43.

    Saga

    Yes and no tree to hide behind now.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 42.

    I doubt if there is anyone in the House of Commons who doesn't have an opinion on Murdoch and News Corp. How about giving the job on the BSkyB bid to Tom Watson or Chris Bryant and asking for a measured response?

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 41.

    Let the Labour Boot Boys start early Nick, let them get their kicks in before Hunt takes the stand. Why, justice can be so much fun! The prejudiced few screaming from the sidelines for a public hanging are a real spectacle. Come on Labour, get stuck in, rally round like common skinheads, start baying. Shame BBC, shame Nick, why not allow the day to pass and hear what has to be said?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 40.

    The Ministerial Code is clear. Hunt needs to take responsibility for his 'rogue' advisor - Smith's actions were HIS actions.

    Rules like this are put in place because the card that the Tories are trying to play is such an easy get out, regardless of where the balance of truth lies. Have we not also heard "Ignorance of the law is no excuse".

    Still, the MC is outside Leveson, as we ALL know!

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 39.

    He looks like a real smartypants

    He'll have to be better than good to unseat Teflon Tonys' number one spot though

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 38.

    Your a very naughty boy?
    No I'm not!
    Oh, OK then.

    A concise summary of the day, day and a half's, impending proceedings.

    I should be a political editor.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 37.

    There will always be those for whom Hunt is whiter than white and those for whom he is the perfect representation of the shady world of improper media influence in government. It doesn't really matter. Whether he stays or goes is a minor issue. The damage has already been done. Damage limitation is the only game in town and has been for some time.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 36.

    30.BetterOffDeadThanRed

    "Oh,then this is something to do with Cameron's judgement". No evidence."

    We've evidence Vince Cable and Jeremy Hunt held anti- and pro-Murdoch views in advance of their roles in the News Corp bid. And we've evidence Cameron knew of Hunt's bias before appointing him. Yet Cameron chose to replace the biased Cable with the biased Hunt. Poor judgment.

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 35.

    29.Tamar

    "The most important thing for Jeremy Hunt was to be seen to be acting impartially whilst having not the slightest intention of doing so. No public interest entered his mind whatsoever."

    Any evidence for this, or is it just spiteful vitriol ?

    You risk aligning yourself to Ed's Balls n Milibland and, however, poor our current political masters, their track record is far, far worse.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 34.

    #30

    There WAS a massive Tory/Labour fear of the Murdoch press and this is what was unhealthy and has lead to this unhealthy relationship between politicians and press.
    In the views of the politically partisan the Sun did for Kinnock and then won it for Blair.The reality was Kinnock did it for Kinnock and the total incompetence and devisiveness of the the Thatcher/Major years won it for Blair

  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 33.

    To follow 'John' 10 mins ago. this isn't about phone-hacking, Murdoch or Hunt. It's about standards of honesty and decency at the heart of society. Gove thinks Murdoch a great man despite businesses which lie, blackmail, bribe and deliberately ruin the lives of ordinary people.The real substance is whether Mr Gove and people like him are fit to govern..

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 32.

    I wonder if Mr Robinson would care to explain why Mr Hunt has clearly briefed his best friend in the press pack before giving his evidence to Lord Leveson?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 31.

    I am really, really excited, please excuse me now, I have to go and watch some paint dry.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 30.

    It is funny to watch the complete disarray of Labour bloggers on this issue. "There was a massive pro-Murdoch Tory conspiracy". No evidence. "Oh, then Hunt behavd in a crooked way". No evidence. "Oh,then this is something to do with Cameron's judgement". No evidence. Looks like Labour HQ's cribsheet is having trouble keeeping up with reality.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 29.

    The most important thing for Jeremy Hunt was to be seen to be acting impartially whilst having not the slightest intention of doing so. No public interest entered his mind whatsoever.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 28.

    I was going to make a comment but saw the word " leveson" and my mind appears to be blank.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 27.

    Mr Hunt's offence isn't support for Murdoch, but appears to be incompetence in office. He probably couldn't have resigned even if he'd really wanted to - there is a clear "firebreak" strategy in place. The first firebreak was the SpAd. That hasn't worked. They tried to finger the Perm Sec, but he was too wily. The next firebreak is Hunt. Is it enough to stop Cameron burning? Probably not.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 26.

    The paranoid right is out in force defending their kind today. You should listen to non paranoid Tories like Norman Fowler,a competent and decent man,he can see that whatever the case the appearance of this is bad for Hunt/Cameron

    The domination of our media by Murdoch was a disgrace and Labour are as guilty as the Tories. Luckily the balance regualtion was kept otherwise we would have Fox News

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 25.

    Clearly the Tory apparatchiks are busy. Hunt has a choice of confessing to knowledge of the extraordinary NC interaction with the SoS personal representative or admitting to dereliction of duty in taking responsibility for his paid appointee work. It would be incredible to be told that on this subject and for the duration Hunt and Smith did not get together and review/discuss the Murdoch bid.

 

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