In the space of a fortnight, Jeremy Hunt has gone from being a candidate for the next Conservative Party leader to a politician fighting for his political career. Now that his regular correspondence with Frederic Michel, head of public affairs at News Corp has been revealed, it is clear that the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport was keen to help News Corp see through their potential takeover bid for BSkyB.
Whether it is the revelation from the emails released to the Leveson Report yesterday that Hunt, in the words of Michel, 'shared our objectives' or that Michel admitted to getting key information relating to the prospective takeover of BSkyB from Hunt's office a day before it was released to the public (Michel admits that gaining such information was 'absolutely illegal'), it further demonstrates that the Murdoch empire's tentacles extended as far as cabinet ministers. What remains to be seen is whether they could rely on the Prime Minister as well.
Labour have quite rightly called for Jeremy Hunt's resignation. Not only has Hunt failed to fulfil his quasi-judicial role in regards to the BSkyB bid, the correspondence between himself and Michel suggests he may been actively colluding with News Corp to help along their bid. Worse still, there are suggestions that there is far more explicit evidence of Hunt's support for News Corp to be found in text messages sent between the two parties.
Jeremy Hunt is surely entering the final throes of his ministerial career. There are suggestions that he will stay on for a brief while to act as a firewall to stop the controversy spreading to David Cameron, but many are already questioning his judgement in regards to News Corp.
The Telegraph go as far as to blame Hunt's behaviour on the Prime Minister's cosy relationship with many of the key figures at News Corp:
The reason for that is straightforward enough. He was simply following the lead of his boss. Mr Cameron has been the real cheerleader for the Murdoch empire in this administration. Since becoming leader of the Conservative Party, he has taken as many pains to cultivate his relationship with the Murdochs and their acolytes as he has to conceal just how close it is. For example, when he has been asked about the notorious Christmas dinner at the Chipping Norton home of his friend and neighbour Rebekah Brooks, the former News Corp executive, the Prime Minister has insisted that there was nothing “inappropriate” about any conversation he had with James Murdoch, who was also present. Yet James confirmed to the Leveson Inquiry yesterday that he had discussed the takeover bid with Mr Cameron at the dinner. How appropriate was that?
Such lack of candour by the Prime Minister is disappointing. Mr Cameron’s pro-Murdoch sympathies were also on display in his decision to employ as his director of communications Andy Coulson, the disgraced former News of the World editor; and in his refusal to condemn Mrs Brooks when she fell victim to the Metropolitan Police investigation into phone hacking and corruption. Mr Cameron even tried to hide the fact that he had ridden a horse that had been unofficially lent to Mrs Brooks by the Metropolitan Police. With this kind of example being set at the highest level, is it not entirely predictable that while Mr Hunt was considering the BSkyB takeover, back channels were running between his office and News Corp? It is unsurprising that Labour has called for the Culture Secretary’s resignation: he has a lot of explaining to do. By the time Rupert Murdoch finishes his own testimony to Leveson, which will be heard today and tomorrow, so may the Prime Minister.
When you read this catalogue of events, it is surprising that the Prime Minister hasn't been held to greater account for his unforgivably close ties with an organisation that has been proven to engage in systemic criminality of the highest order.
But there is a lesson to the curious case of Jeremy Hunt that goes beyond even the office of the Prime Minister. When the Conservative Party comes to power, Ministers are more interested in engineering their decision making process to suited the vested interests of their corporate friends than the concerns of the British people.