Hunt survives, but at what cost?
Hunt’s defence to being biased in deciding that the BSkyB bid could go ahead – provided Sky News were spun off –was that he sought and followed advice from Ofcom, the independent regulator.* The weak points in his defence were a couple of emails from Michel that suggested Hunt had sought to influence Ofcom to give him the advice he wanted.
When Robert Jay put one of these to Hunt (page 44 of the transcript), the Culture Secretary said he had been misrepresented:
Jay: You’re clear then that — I suppose the most damaging line, if that’s the way to put it, in this email [from Michel] is, “He [Jeremy Hunt/Adam Smith] made again a plea to try to find as many legal errors [in an Ofcom document] as we can”; you’re clear that that does not emanate from you?
Hunt: We know the conversation is with Mr Smith and Mr Smith says it doesn’t emanate from him, so it certainly doesn’t emanate from me.
Later (on page 71), Hunt explained how Michel could have so distorted his views:
Hunt: I could imagine Mr Michel downloading all his views about Ofcom and trying to interpret the sort of odd grunt from Mr Smith as being agreement with what he was saying.
And that was it. I do not know what other evidence there might be that Hunt sought to influence Ofcom, but the Leveson inquiry is certainly not the place to investigate it.
Hunt keeps his job for now, then, although he still has some discrepancies in what he told the House of Commons on 25 April to explain. But he has not emerged well from the publication of texts and emails, or from the way in which he treated Adam Smith, his special adviser. That his evidence yesterday was a defensive performance I can understand, but Hunt came across as lacking character. He did not seem to be Cabinet material. That talk of his being a future Tory leader I never understood, but it seems ridiculous now.
His explanation (transcript page 94) of why he sacked his special adviser was possibly the weakest weaselling I have heard from someone who aspires to be a leader:
Jay: Did you say to him at about 9.30 in the morning, “Everyone here thinks you need to go”?
Hunt: Yes. I wasn’t particularly including myself in that description of “everyone”, I was just talking about — I mean, I think I personally found the whole thing incredibly difficult. This was someone I’d been working incredibly closely with for nearly six years, someone of whom I had the highest opinion, someone I felt responsible for and someone who is very decent and honourable, and it seemed terribly unfair but the pressure was such that it did seem that it was inevitable.
Jay: Although the person responsible for his discipline, if I can use that term, was you, not the Civil Service, wasn’t it?
Hunt: Well, he reported to me, yes.
Jay: So if something had gone wrong, I’m not saying that it follows that you were responsible for that, it’s not for me to suggest that or put that question to you, but theoretically it fell within your responsibility, didn’t it?
Hunt: You know, I do have responsibility for what he does. I actually have responsibility for whatever everyone in my department does, but I have more direct responsibility for the people who are my direct reports.
Jay: Mm. May I put to you this question, which I’ve obviously seen somewhere: did you originally believe that Mr Smith had done nothing wrong and tell friends that you would resign yourself rather than let a junior official go, or words to that effect?
Hunt: I did think about my own position, but I — I had conducted the bid scrupulously fairly throughout every stage, and I believed it was possible to demonstrate that, and I decided that it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to go, but it was with an incredibly heavy heart that I felt that we just didn’t have any choice but to accept Adam’s resignation.
When David Cameron has his reshuffle, Hunt has failed to make the case for his retention.
*If you ask, Why could Vince Cable not have adopted the same protection against his own bias, the answer is one of degree. Having said that he had “declared war” on Murdoch was more biased against the bid than Hunt’s “sympathy” was in favour.Tagged in: jeremy hunt
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter