What some may have overlooked in the row over what Culture Secretary John Whittingdale may have got up to with whom is the worrying evidence of his closeness to the very people who stand to gain the most from his favour - the press and their pals. In particular, while he is stalling on Section 40 of the Crime And Courts Act, he has been accepting the hospitality of one newspaper group in particular.was at last December’s bash at Rupe’s London gaff. The Ministerial Code specifically talks not just of a conflict of interest, but any suggestion of one.
At least we know about that meeting with the Murdoch mafiosi, though: Whittingdale has been notoriously secretive about his other contacts with the Cosa Rupra and its subsidiaries. Indeed, last December it was revealed that “Culture Secretary John Whittingdale refused to disclose information about any meetings he has had with Sky or News Corp executives since May 2015 when asked by Labour MP Paul Farrelly”.
Why not? Does Whitto have a problem with openness and transparency? He can’t have anything to hide, surely? Perhaps it has something to do with the Culture Secretary’s attitude to the little people, which is rather less accommodating. When his visits to lap dancing clubs were revealed recently - just before he spoke in favour of the industry in Parliament - it was brushed off as nothing more than fact finding.
And when campaigning group Hacked Off lobbied him last month - Dave has recently become rather too busy to meet with the victims of press abuse that he promised to put “front and centre” of reform efforts - Whittingdale ignored their concerns and when asked whether the press had anything on him, said no, they did not. We now know that the press had rather a lot on him, after Byline Media burst the dam open.
Then when the time came for consultation on the future of the BBC, the little people were once again excluded: first, anything from campaign group 38 Degrees was treated with such suspicion that Whitto, as the Telegraph observed, “suggested he was so alarmed that the process had been hijacked by left-wingers that he had considered paying for focus groups as an alternative way to establish what the public thinks about the BBC”.
Fine to meet Rupe and listen to him, but not all those “reprobate oiks” whose opinions are inconvenient to him. And it wasn’t an isolated incident: when 9,000 Radio Times readers gave their feedback on the consultation, his department just ignored it. The impression is given that, at the point where the Murdochs might well come back with another bid for the part of Sky they do not own, nothing has changed since the days of Jeremy Hunt.
The closeness to Murdoch that Cameron once regretted has now returned. John Whittingdale is at the heart of that cosiness. And that’s not good enough.