Hunt out to dry? Clegg refuses to back Tory culture secretary as Lib Dem MPs push inquiry

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is piling the pressure on Jeremy Hunt, whose closeness to the Murdoch empire has been embarrassingly laid bare by the Leveson Inquiry in the past few weeks, by refusing to endorse David Cameron’s decision not to refer his culture secretary to the official adviser on the ministerial code, Sir Alex Allan. Here’s how The Observer is reporting it:

Nick Clegg refuses to back Jeremy Hunt as Lib Dems demand investigation

Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, has refused to give unequivocal backing to Jeremy Hunt over his handling of the BSkyB takeover controversy as senior Liberal Democrats broke ranks to demand a new investigation into whether the culture secretary has broken the ministerial code. …

Labour will call a Commons vote on whether Hunt should be investigated, claiming he misled parliament about his role in News Corp’s bid for BSkyB and failed to keep his adviser Adam Smith, who quit over his contacts with Murdoch executives, under control. A Lib Dem spokesman refused to say whether Clegg would order his MPs to back Cameron. “No decision has been taken,” he said. …

Pressure on Clegg to take on Cameron was applied by several Lib Dems, including the party’s representative on the culture, media and sport select committee, Adrian Sanders. Sanders said he thought the case should “definitely” be referred for investigation. “The public will accept the verdict from the person who is supposed to investigate these issues far more readily that it will the verdict of the prime minister,” he added. “What is the point of having an adviser on the ministerial code if you never use him?”

Lorely Burt, the Lib Dem MP for Solihull, said Hunt should have offered himself up for investigation. “I thought he should have referred himself, quite honestly, but he has lost that opportunity.” Other senior Lib Dems said they were “astonished” that the prime minister had not referred Hunt to Allan.

There’s no doubt such a Lib Dem move would irritate the party’s Coalition partners, the Conservatives. Equally, many Lib Dems are frustrated that the party has been unable to make much clearer publicly that it was the Tories and Labour who happily cosied up to News International while the Lib Dems maintained a proper distance.

Reports indicate the Lib Dems are attracted to the idea of tabling an amendment to Labour’s Commons motion centering on “the specific allegation that Hunt misled parliament when he claimed in a statement in April to have published all his communications with News Corp and the Murdochs.” Indeed this proposal was floated by Lib Dem blogger Richard Morris in the New Statesman on Friday, who noted:

If we’re smart, we’ll put down an amendment to whatever motion Labour puts forward, that centres purely on misleading Parliament – a charge that may well be substantiated in the debate.

And if he’s smart, Cameron will quietly raise no objections to us supporting that amendment. If Hunt resigns over a charge of misleading parliament, that issue starts and ends at his door. If we stray into why a man who was so clearly pro-Murdoch was given quasi-judicial responsibility for the BSkyB bid in the first place, that issue lands on the doorstep of No.10.

And before that happens, Hunt will probably go.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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12 Comments

  • Geoffrey Payne 2nd Jun '12 - 10:03pm

    This simply has to be done. Nick Clegg is right to consider his response, and I hope he goes ahead

  • You can’t get much more cynical than a minister caught red handed blaming his SpAd. Hunt really is beneath contempt. A less trustworthy minister there has not been in my lifetime. Do the right thing Cameron!

  • A month ago Nick Clegg was very earnest about the need for us to get at the truth by Jeremy Hunt giving evidence under oath to a judge:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-17867493

    It’s a shame Nick Robinson didn’t point out the gaping flaw in his argument – that if the judge does ever express any opinion about Hunt’s actions it won’t be for many months. If Nick Clegg thinks there is a need to get at the truth, why not just ask the man whose job it is to investigate the matter?

  • Keith Browning 3rd Jun '12 - 8:23am

    With Warsi jostling to be at the front of the ‘naughty boys’ queue outside the headmaster’s study, could this be another tactic to distract the attention from JH. Why is he being protected with such vehemence and yet she is about to be left to the wolves? Perhaps he knows where the bodies are buried. I’m sure when the whole truth is finally revealed it will make another good comedy sit-com for Channel 4.

  • ……………………….A Lib Dem spokesman refused to say whether Clegg would order his MPs to back Cameron. “No decision has been taken,” he said. …

    Hardly a resounding LibDem stand.

  • Simon Hebditch 3rd Jun '12 - 11:58am

    There is no doubt that Jeremy Hunt should be referred to the official adviser on the ministerial code. Lib Dem parliamentarians should vote for a resolution on this matter and not be “whipped” to support David Cameron’s cavalier backing of his minister.

  • Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera 3rd Jun '12 - 12:00pm

    It is simple, either Hunt has broken the ‘Ministerial Code’, or he has not!

    The only way ‘fair’ way to come to a conclusion on this question is for an inquiry to be established. I would though suggest given the PM’s past choices, that the inquiry be independent.

    On one level I am more than happy that Hunt and now also Baroness Warsi remain in place, for the longer ‘loose cannons’ are not tied down they will continue to do untold damage, but seriously, if we as a Party are not heard and seen to challenge the inappropriateness of these and other Coalition members, then we will be seen as supportive of alleged inappropriate behaviour and abuses of authority, or what has historically been known as ‘Conservative Party sleaze’.

  • David Evans 3rd Jun '12 - 3:09pm

    ‘Other senior Lib Dems said they were “astonished” that the prime minister had not referred Hunt to Allan.’

    Somehow I doubt that. I think our MPs split into two groups.

    Firstly, a small group that believes that David Cameron as PM leads totally in the “national interest in order to get us out of the mess Labour left us in,” and so they agree with his decision. Secondly those who know he is a Conservative.

  • I am a lib dem member and fully support our MPs backing a motion for hunt to be reffered to the ministrial code to see if he has broke it.

  • Paul McKeown 4th Jun '12 - 6:24pm

    Hunt should go. He is damaging both governing parties by hanging on.

  • Yusuf Osman 4th Jun '12 - 7:49pm

    Absolutely Hunt should be referred to Sir Alex Allan. He’s clearly misled Parliament as Adam Smith’s communications with Fred Michelle weren’t published when Hunt told Parliament that he had published all communications between his department and representatives of News Cor. And if that isn’t a sufficiently strong enough reason, what about the Ministerial code which makes clear that Ministers are responsible for the actions of their special advisors. Either Hunt knew what Mr Smith was doing, in which case he should go, or he didn’t know, in which case he should still go, for not properly line managing an employee. This is an issue where our MPs and Ministers should be charting a distinct course from our coalition partners. Clearly we can’t back the PM on this one, its another example of his poor judgement.

  • Agree entirely.

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