Leveson – Hunt Takes the Stand

08:34 Thursday 31st May 2012
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: It could be make or break for the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt today. He’s giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry into press standards, amid calls for his removal over the handling of that planned takeover of BSkyB. Let’s speak to Paul Rowley, our political correspondent. Morning Paul
PAUL ROWLEY: Morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Ooh, this is the day we’ve been waiting for, isn’t it?
PAUL ROWLEY: It’s critical. Yes. Jeremy Hunt’s fate as a Cabinet Minister very much rests on his performance in the course of the day. He’ll be on the stand for the entire day Paul. There are no other witnesses. He’s already lost his special adviser as he’s called, Adam Smith, after the emergence of a shed load of pretty chummy emails with News Corporation, seemingly keeping Rupert Murdoch’s organisation fully briefed on every detail of the Government’s response to their proposed bid to take over BSkyB, at a time when Jeremy Hunt was acting in what they call a quasi-judicial role, when he was supposed to be operating independently. The difficulty was he had gone on record in the past to support this bid, so I think the task today is to maintain that despite his private views, publicly he was acting in a detached, unbiased, impartial manner. Difficulty is, Labour are demanding his resignation, they’re saying it’s going to be an immensely difficult task for him to sustain that position. And no doubt he’ll face a pretty rigorous cross-examination, under oath let’s not forget, in the course of the day.
PAUL STAINTON: And let’s not forget as well, the guy that was his right-hand man that had to go, and fall on his sword, has already given evidence.
PAUL ROWLEY: Yes. Absolutely. And Vince Cable has given evidence, as indeed has his spin-doctor, Adam Smith. The extraordinary thing is the role on this matter was taken by the Business Secretary, who is a Liberal Democrat. Clearly he was opposed to the bid. And now it’s gone to somebody who supported the bid. So there is always going to be a problem there. The extraordinary thing I think for David Cameron is I think the buck stops with him in the end, though on this one. He does not want to lose another Cabinet Minister. He’s not inclined to produce a scalp for the Labour Party, who are keen to lay this one at the door of Number 10. But I think by keeping Jeremy Hunt in place it does protect David Cameron in a way. He acts as a kind of shelter for the Prime Minister. But I think he’s now having serious thoughts of agreeing to the Leveson enquiry he set up, let’s not forget Paul, because of the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World. And the intention at the time was to sort out the excesses of the media. I don’t think he expected it to be one that shone the light quite closely at the imperfections shall we say of his own government.
PAUL STAINTON: And the thing is he needs a firewall, doesn’t he? Because what with Andy Coulson and what happened yesterday, if Jeremy Hunt goes as well, there’s so much going on that surrounds him, he’s going to find his position very very difficult, isn’t he?
PAUL ROWLEY: It’s a question of judgement for the Prime Minister. For the first eighteen months of the Coalition Government, he seemed to be walking on water in so so many ways. And yet the fallout of the Budget as well, Ed Milliband has now got a spring in his step. All of a sudden, things have changed quite dramatically. So I think David Cameron doesn’t want to lose someone who is seen as an able minister, let’s not forget. And the Culture Department’s got a busy old year. They’ve got the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations that they’re organising next week. They’ve got the Olympics this summer. But one of the main ironies in all this is that the BSkyB takeover, which we’re all talking about, never actually happened. Because it was abandoned by News Corporation because of the distraction of the phone-hacking scandal. And the decision was only given to Jeremy Hunt because Vince Cable was seen to be wanting to declare war on Rupert Murdoch. Had that not happened paul, this would have been a Liberal Democrat problem. Nobody would have been talking about the Culture Secretary. David Cameron would have been in the clear. Instead it’s become a question of judgement for the Prime Minister. He seems to be beleaguered at the moment. He’s been damaged, partly by that modern day phenomenon called the curse of the email. Tony Blair was right not to do emails, because it gets you into so much trouble. So I think if anything is said today over the course of probably four of five hours, that somehow the Ministerial Code of Conduct has been breached, I’m not saying that Jeremy Hunt will have to walk, but certainly there could well be yet another inquiry. It’s going to be time-consuming, and it’s all becoming incredibly messy.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Well we’ll wait and see what happens with Jeremy Hunt. We shall be glued to the box later on today.