It was as plain as a pikestaff that something very wrong had happened when – a month ago – both the extent and nature of the contacts between Jeremy Hunt’s office and News International were first revealed.
The concerns raised were serious, and it was important that the Culture secretary took them seriously.
But he did not.
Hunt instead went to the Commons and did a tub-thumping and defiant defence of his conduct, whilst shafting his special adviser.
That is why last month this blog called on Hunt to resign.
In the Commons Hunt said:
Throughout the bid process, when I got responsibility for it, the contact that I had with Fred Michel was only at official meetings that were minuted with other people present.
But there was demonstrable contact, via texts. This statement to the Commons is incorrect, and Hunt must have made the statement knowing it was incorrect.
Hunt also said:
When I was appointed to be responsible for the bid, my views about the bid, some of which had been made public, were explicitly reported to the Cabinet Secretary, who decided that it was appropriate for me to take responsibility for it in a quasi-judicial role.
But it appears that this statement is also incorrect. It seems a crucial memorandum to Cameron from Hunt was not provided. And this memorandum may have been as colourful in its language as to his view as to the consequences of the News International bid not being successful as Vince Cable had been in an unguarded moment when being recorded. If Cable was biased, Hunt certainly was – though in the other direction.
The Conservatives are now in a political crisis just because they are defending Hunt by any means they can think of. This is becoming desperate stuff.
It can be fairly said that Hunt misled the Commons and breached the ministerial code. He and his office acted with apparent and thereby unlawful bias in dealing with the BSkyB decision. And it is even possible a criminal offence was committed. (On these points see Carl Gardner here.)
All this is becoming very obvious, and no sensible person can defend Hunt’s conduct over the bid with a straight face.
Hunt allowed his office and his department to be severely compromised when taking a crucial ministerial decision which affected the future of the mainstream media.
His resignation can now only be a matter of time.
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