One of the key factors in this Jeremy Hunt business was always going to be the ferocity of the political maelstrom around him. After a slow start, the Tories have sought to calm it down, offering fulsome support for the embattled Culture Secretary.
For their part, Labour have been calling for his resignation from the very moment the news broke, with Ed Miliband today accusing David Cameron of ‘organising a cover-up’ to protect his colleague. So
far, so party lines.
But what about the Lib Dems? It’s noteworthy that one of their number — Simon Hughes, natch — last night called for an independent investigation into the matter (see the video above).
This, of course, is not something that Downing Street is minded to do. Their position is that the Leveson Inquiry is sufficient, and that Hunt should be allowed to state his case as part of that
Nick Clegg, it should be said, has so far remained on the side of the Tory leadership. Tellingly, he remained seated on the green benches for the Culture Secretary’s statement on Wednesday, and one
of his people has this morning downplayed Hughes’s comments in conversation with Sky’s Sophie Ridge,
albeit with a touch of ambiguity.
That said, there will be pressure from Clegg’s own party to take a tougher line on Hunt — and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s tempted to do so. Don’t forget, much of the Lib Dems’
‘differentiation strategy’ is based on presenting themselves as the
anti-establishment party within goverment. They may have been mentioned in the Fred Michel
emails themselves, but they will want to distinguish themselves from the whole Murdoch farrago nonetheless. Hence why Clegg mouthed ‘no we didn’t’ when Cameron claimed in PMQs that
‘we all did too much cosying up to Rupert Murdoch’.
In which case, this could easily become another sore point between the two halves (or the one-sixth and
five-sixths) of the coalition. Plenty of Tories still think that Vince Cable got off lightly after his nuclear comments about Murdoch. If the Lib Dems try to make life difficult for Hunt,
then this testy relationship might become even more frayed.
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