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Tuesday 24 April 2012

Leveson Is Served (15)


[Updates, two so far, at end of post]

So Murdoch Junior has completed his appearance before the Leveson Inquiry, and appears to have not found the ordeal too taxing. If only the same could be said for culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, who, following release of a series of emails, now appears to be on his way out. The impression that Hunt was acting partially in the BSkyB negotiations is inescapable.

Why there are a growing number of calls for Hunt to resign – or be sacked – is that it looks very much as if he was part of a back channel between the Government and News International (NI) bypassing Vince Cable, who was the senior minister and before the Telegraph’s sting on him, the one who had to make the decision on whether to refer the BSkyB sale.

You told WHO about WHAT?!?

Most damningly, the emails suggest that some of the information received by Junior’s advisor should not have been handed over. That could mean that NI was in possession of market sensitive detail, and illegally so. And on top of all that, it also appears that Hunt passed details of a discussion on the takeover with Paul Dacre to Junior, and this has predictably caused the Daily Mail to erupt.

Tory minister on the brink after emails reveal Murdoch was given 'absolutely illegal' tip-off over £8bn BSkyB deal” screamed the headline, as Hunt’s career was asserted to be “hanging in the balance”. Even the call for Hunt’s resignation by Harriet Harman is given prominence, a rarity indeed (her usual role is being abused by the odious Quentin Letts (let’s not)).

If this piece is the start of a series – and the Mail doesn’t tend to do things by halves – then Hunt is going to find himself shunted not just by the Leveson revelations, but also by a chorus from the Dacre press. Leaking details of what the Vagina Monologue told him in confidence means Hunt has broken Dacre’s trust and that is not something the Mail’s editor will readily forgive.

And while Hunt is considering his position, Young Dave may be wondering how much closer the tide of implication will get to him. Does he sack Hunt, and thereby distance himself from any impropriety that may have taken place, or does he wait and hope that it blows over? One coming event that could force his hand is that Rupe himself appears before Leveson tomorrow.

What Murdoch senior tells the Inquiry could quite literally bring down the Government. Cameron may now be wishing he had not started this process running, but it is too late to stop the juggernaut. If Rupe drops a big enough turd on to Cameron, from a suitably high altitude, then the mess may be beyond clearing up. Sleepless times in Downing Street tonight, then.

[UPDATE1 25 April 1345 hours: while Jeremy Hunt is trying gamely to bat away criticism in the Commons, the Mail has continued to go after him. Despite throwing special advisor Adam Smith under the bus, Dacre's hacks are not impressed, asking "will it be enough to save [the] Minister?". This, a rhetorical question in the style of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse) in reality means the Mail believes that Hunt is still well and truly shunted.

This is substantially down to the one item I mentioned previously: that Hunt broke Paul Dacre's confidence by relaying - or causing to be relayed - part of a conversation he had had with the Mail's editor, and to a representative of a rival media player. Thus Hunt has not only to convince Parliament, but he has also to pass muster with the Daily Mail. And he will only accomplish that task by doing the decent thing and resigning. Dacre won't accept less]

[UPDATE2 29 April 1745 hours: the Mail has gone to the trouble of running - prominently - a comment piece by Ed Miliband, more usually the butt of ridicule by Dacre's attack poodles, where the Leveson revelations are featured prominently. The Mail's editor, as I already pointed out, takes a dim view of those who betray his trust, and that is what Hunt appears to have done.

Meanwhile, the Independent has detailed three occasions where Hunt has potentially misled Parliament. In March last year, he said all correspondence between his department and News Corp was being published, but it was not: the email exchanges between his advisor Adam Smith and the Murdoch team were not included and only came to light when Murdoch Junior testified before Leveson last week.

And in his statement before the Commons last Wednesday, Hunt claimed that his permanent secretary had "authorised" and "approved" Smith as a point of contact with News Corp., although the official concerned, Jonathan Stephens, merely agreed that he was "content and aware", which is not the same thing. Moreover, Hunt may have misled Parliament about his meetings with one of the Murdoch team.

Misleading Parliament, according to the Ministerial Code which Young Dave has brought in, means instant resignation, and also says that Hunt was responsible for his special advisor, who has now resigned. Cameron appeared on The Andy Marr Show (tm) this morning and asserted that he was "straining every sinew", but he'll have to do a little more than that to make this one go away]

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