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Saturday 28 April 2012

Leveson Is Served (16)


While football fans pore over the final Saturday of the Championship, those at the top of Government are locked into another game, where they are right now losing control and find themselves in a very tight corner. Welcome to the sport of Ministerial Code Judgment Passing: Leveson has rightly told Young Dave that his Inquiry isn’t there to pronounce on Jeremy Hunt, so Cameron is back to square one.

After Murdoch Junior appeared before Leveson this week, the release of correspondence gave every impression that Hunt had favoured Rupe and his takeover troops in their bid to take over that part of BSkyB that they did not already own. Hunt then decided an early appearance before the Inquiry was necessary to enable him to show that this was not the case.

Cameron, moreover, declined to refer the matter of whether or not Hunt had broken the rules to a separate inquiry, so now that Leveson has passed this particular hot potato back, the PM has nowhere else to go. And there seems little chance of getting Leveson to reconsider: he has said, quite rightly, that he cannot be the arbiter of the ministerial code. So what happens next?

Hunt won’t appear before Leveson until well into next month, and in any case, that Inquiry will not report until October at the earliest. But the pressure is building on Young Dave, not least from his Coalition partners, to have Hunt’s conduct referred to an inquiry, possibly by Alex Allan, the independent advisor on the ministerial code. That pressure could only be relieved in one way.

And that is by Hunt resigning, with Cameron accepting the resignation and reshuffling his cabinet accordingly. The only problem with that, though, is it will leave Cameron exposed when the next Leveson revelation is made, and no-one right now is betting against such an event. Like the matter of the ministerial code, that should have been considered before setting up that Inquiry.

Because right now, the terms of reference given to Leveson do not allow his Inquiry to make judgments on the ministerial code, but do allow a succession of witnesses to appear, some of whom now have an axe to grind, and who are more than ready to hand over correspondence and emails for publication, with all the potential that has to embarrass ministers – maybe even the Prime Minister.

Cameron cannot be seen to be trying to get those terms of reference changed on the fly, and after the event, merely for his own convenience. But he must sort out the matter of his Culture Secretary before the chorus of “cover-up” drowns out any effort coming out of 10 Downing Street to wrest control of the narrative. If he doesn’t, next week’s election results could look very bad indeed.

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