Coffee House

On the eve of Hunt’s Leveson appearance

30 May 2012

It has become the conventional wisdom in Westminster that Jeremy Hunt’s career will turn on his appearance before the Leveson Inquiry tomorrow. Friends of Hunt have today been arguing that the Inquiry’s focus should be on how he carried out the quasi-judicial role. They are saying that once appointed to it, Hunt behaved — unlike Vince Cable — properly. They concede that Hunt’s texts to Fred Michel were overly familiar. But they maintain that, unlike Adam Smith’s texts, they gave away nothing about the state of the bid process.

On the charge that Hunt misled Parliament, when he told it on the 25th of April that ‘I made absolutely no interventions seeking to influence a quasi-judicial decision that was at that time the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Business’ they stress that the memo on the BSkyB bid went to Cameron not Cable, and that the meeting with Cable and Clegg proposed in it never happened. I’m not sure, though, whether this is entirely consistent with what Hunt said in the House. But it is worth noting that because the proposed meeting never actually happened, there was no direct lobbying of the Business Secretary.

Having seen Lord Justice Leveson’s reaction to Adam Smith’s evidence, I suspect, thoug, that Hunt will get a tough ride on how he did not know what his special adviser was doing. Leveson seemed incredulous that someone of Smith’s experience had been given this level of discretion.

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Show comments
  • Simon Stephenson.

    Rhys : 10.18am

    Spot on. Keep it up.

    Have you read Chris Dillow’s piece on this? This website won’t allow me to post the link, but you’ll find it in “Stumbling and Mumbling” dated May 25th and headed “Leveson’s Unlearnt Lesson”. Dillow argues that we are being absurd to expect individuals to act as we would like them to unless they are required to satisfy a system or structure with a permanence and strength which they cannot overrule.

  • Rhys

    What can it possibly be said against the Aide that he was saying or doing which was in any way other than consonant with the dealings his boss Hunt had with [ and on behalf of – q.v. the Memo to the PM requesting to set up a meeting with V.Cable ] Michel / News Int’l ?

    The whole embarrassing and cringe-making details of the mutual suckings-up between Mr Hunt [ ie himself, not his Advisor ] and Mr Michel plus the very detailed Memo H wrote to the PM way back make clear beyond peradventure that Adam Smith was indeed acting purely as His Master’s Voice in all his dealings with Mr Michel : this recently disclosed evidence shows that he cannot validly be accused of going off on a frolic of his own on the subject.

    It is thus utterly despicable for Mr Hunt and the Perm. Sec. to seek to make him responsible for the fiasco. [ Though I have no doubt that in exchange for going quietly he will soon be re-cycled as a SPAD or whatever for someone else. Certainly if this were not the case he could take them for a fortune on Unfair Dismissal grounds in any Tribunal.]

    2] The bizarre, teenager-ish, nature of the texts [ the ones between Hunt and Michel are far more cringe-making than those between his Aide and Michel ] and the fact that a Government Minister can be impressed by insincere simpering flattery ‘ you were SOooo good at the Despatch Box / on Telly ‘ and such, and the fact that sweeteners are still being offered [ which must mean that they are actually appreciated ! pathetic as they are ] in the form of such as tickets to pop concerts is both nauseating and surprising.

    [ Note to journalist looking for a subject : how does the British Establishment system of declaring what inducements you have received make them any less of an inducement to act favourably towards the person/ organization providing you and / or your staff with the inducement ? ? ]

    3] How can there even be any room for debate as to whether this particular, or any other, Advisor, was or was not acting within the limits of his / their role?

    Was he not – as is virtually universal in all office-based employment – given a written job description stating what his functions were and to whom he reports ?

    In particular to whom he reports any difficulties that he is encountering ?

    And if it is a Department which has quasi-judicial responsibilities then why are Special Advisors not given specific legal advice at the start explaining what that means in terms of the administrative law rules re impartiality / audi alteram partem nemo judex and so on ??

    This would appear to be a failing at the very top of the Department not to anticipate an entirely predictable situation.

    If even a Law Lord got the rules against bias wrong [In the Pinochet case] then any non-lawyer coming into a situation where such rules inevitably arise should certainly receive training. If he did not receive it and was then sacked for contravening the rules ( that he had not been educated about) that alone would found a case for Unfair Dismissal.

    If it is now stated that Mr Smith got in too deep because he was overwhelmed by Mr Michel’s persistent importuning – then why did Mr Smith not complain about the importuning to an official in the Department who could have written formally to Mr Michel telling him to in future contact only a named official ( civil servant) in the Department ?

    4] If the answer is Mr Smith was simply too young and inexperienced to realize that he needed to refer the matter to a higher level then this example itself raises the issue of just on what basis are Political Advisers chosen?

    Accepting entirely that there is a valid role for Ministers to have a political appointee in addition to the whole civil servant set up : what is the reason for choosing 20-somethings who may have good degrees from Oxford but who have zero experience of the world of work ?

    Just what advice do they proffer ? Can we see some actual examples of their advice ? ( We are paying for it, after all.) What political issues do they raise exactly which have not occurred to the – generally older and more experienced – politician they serve ?
    Surely they are not chosen for their eye-candy / bag carrying qualities ? Heaven forfend.

    More Generally, post Hunt:

    Accepting that it is perfectly proper for individuals and companies to lobby Government Ministers, seeking to persuade them of the rightness of their case – why does this lobbying ever need to take place outside the context of written submissions to OFFICIALS in the Department concerned, supplemented where necessary by Meetings which are minuted – to protect all concerned against later accusations of ‘he said / she said’ ?

    I accept that there cannot be a ban on social gatherings where individuals may seek to bend the ear of a Minister but if the culture were that this was the exception to the rule the Minister could always make his own burden that much less by fending them off at such gatherings with advice that ‘ you need to send a memo / fix up a meeting ‘ and such like.

  • Mudplugger

    It’s not just about phone-hacking and this immediate Murdoch saga. Look at Hunt’s history, his dealings with the British Council, his brother’s company, his commercial dealings etc. – it’s a long list.
    The simple evidential content may indeed ‘clear’ him today but the other, currently unreported, stuff in the background shows the ‘whole truth and nothing but the truth’ – unlike the limited on-oath offerings to Leveson. At least with Mandelson you knew what you were getting.

  • Ostrich (occasionally)

    “When Posh boys screw up they sack the servants”

    So how come he still has a job?

  • victor jara 67

    Skinner’s comment said it all. “When Posh boys screw up they sack the servants”

  • Sylva

    Oh poor Hunt!!!!!!!! Hunted by the bullied NI and now he will be hunt by Leveson.

    After Ken Clarke some how Jeremy was my favourite Tory Minister. I feel so sorry for him.

    In the parliament he was looking like a frightened rat and then his misled parliament for being impartial (MEMO to Moron in Number 10)

    Please!Please!Please Jay spare this guy he has gone through a lot.

    Harriet please , I beg for clemency for Jeremy spare him the Olympic. he is a nice guy who was bullied by that Fred Michels

  • maurice brady

    He has effortlessly & conveniently (as he saw it)identified himself with News Int. — remarkably more so than his other Cabinet colleagues. To now protest his indifference, is — to say the least dissembling.

  • pieinthesky

    The more this farce continues the less good it will do. At present, it has revealed more about the propensities of the questioners, including the ‘other’ watching journalists who feast on this nonsense, than those questioned.
    Sadly, the rigour of questioning is like a ‘see through’ garment! The so called legal clever sticks, are intent on having it in for some, and giving others a free ride, eg TB-just for one. One can have sympathy with that guy who jumped the proceedings – but was that all a set up anyway…..just happened to be when TB was there? I wonder whose idea it was?

    The whole thing is already in disrepute, had cost an inordinate amount of money, which the Taxpayer is made liable for, even though we didn’t ask for it.
    It has brought every aspect of public life into disrepute.

    Those who will gain from this are the so called ‘book writers’ (and we know who they are), and the legal non-profession.
    What a terrible and disgraceful thing to have going on at the time of HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

    The line in the National Anthem, ‘may she defend our laws’ needs rethinking, as most of them now are ex EU and against our Country, natural law, and more importantly, The Bible. Most people seem to have forgotten this, until they get into Leveson. Because of its (ie The Bible’s) misuse, then its true work is stifled.

    It is to be hoped that this ridiculous Leveson enquiry will come to an abrupt end, and take us all out of our misery!At least we may be saved some money, because even when its over, that’s not the end; more money will be required to enquire into the enquiry, and -‘may we be preserved’-start enforcing stupid recommendations!
    More could be said, and may be should!

  • Fernando

    Mudplugger, I really don’t see it that way. Hunt’s role was well described by his permanent secretary last week and he seems to have acted scrupulously fairly. The only weak spot seems to be that his aide became too close to NI and Hunt’s fate will depend on whether he can convincingly separate himself from this misjudgement. Like Hutton, the froth and press hysteria says one thing; the evidence points to a more mundane conclusion.

  • Mudplugger

    Hunt is a dead man walking, it’s simply a matter of optimum timing.
    He has far too many skeletons still in the closet with him, some of which are starting to leak out through the all-seeing Global Cobweb. He’s toxic – almost makes Mandelson look straight.

  • Fernando

    I certainly doubt whether Hunt will get as easy a ride as Cable. His claims that NI attempted to intimidate him went largely unprobbed and he was not asked to provide evidence nor explain why he did not report this attempt to distort the process at the time. As he followed the advice of the regulator no intimidation would be effective unless it was also directed at the regulator, although Cable was not asked to explain this apparent contradiction.
    Jay at least seems bright and on the ball. Leveson appears slow and niaive and tetchy when challenged by Gove yesterday; frankly, not up to the job. I fear he might end up curtailing the freedom of the press.

  • telemachus’

    Simon Stephenson old son

    I detest the baying hoardes led by hypocritical cheer leaders such as Dacre and Gallagher.

    Hunt seems a decent enough chap for a Tory

    Leave him alone

    Save of course for anything he may impart to induce Cameron to fall on his sword

    Then the smug bankers government can make way for true leadership and usher in an era of growth.

  • Woody

    I hate this trial by media by smarmy, vindictive, lazy journalists who write this tosh, safe in the knowledge they will never have to make a decision of any importance in their sad little lives.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    telemachus : 7.05pm

    So what are you after? A principle and point of law applied evenly across all those involved? Or that its application should be restricted only to those of whom you disapprove, a la the approach of the Labour members of the Commons Select Committee’s inquiry into phone hacking?

  • daniel maris

    More importantly, what was his relationship to the Murdoch empire, BEFORE he became a minister? Why was he so keen on promoting their interests?

  • telemachus’

    For once I am with our beleaguered government

    Leave the bugger alone

    Who gives a shit anyway

    We’ve seen off Murdoch so why not thats that.

    The media holier than thou types mainly the Mail and Telegraph are baying for blood

    I would not mind seeing a drop or two of blood from the smarmy Paul Dacre.

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