Jo Swinson: there are questions to be answered over Jeremy Hunt

Nick Clegg’s Parliamentary aide Jo Swinson was up early on BBC Breakfast this morning to talk about Liberal Democrat MPs’ decision not to support Jeremy Hunt in the Commons tonight.

She started off by saying that the Prime Minister’s decision not to refer the Culture Secretary to the Independent Adviser on the Ministerial Code was not a collective one therefore the Liberal Democrats were not bound by collective responsibility. The decision not to refer Hunt is not endorsed by the Liberal Democrats therefore we would not be voting with the Conservatives tonight.

The Voice wonders if the real issue is the exclusivity of the PM’s privilege on this. Why should he have the sole say on whether his minister should be referred or not? Should the Independent Adviser have the power to start an investigation on the basis of allegations made? We need to be careful that we don’t create the sort of environment that led to the constant and expensive investigations we see in the US. We all remember the lurid reports of Bill Clinton’s private life revealed by Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr which led to the impeachment of the President. There needs to be a wider scope for reference to the Independent Adviser that doesn’t allow the opposition to persecute somebody for purely political purposes. It’s important that that balance is found soon.

She went on to say that there were questions relating to Hunt’s conduct that would be resolved by an investigation.

Pressed on why we were abstaining rather than voting against, she said that the Labour motion was highly opportunistic. That Party when in Government had not taken responsibility for the behaviour of their Special Advisers and their motion would not be binding on the Prime Minister even if it were passed.

She finished by emphasising that both Labour and the Conservatives have form on cosying up to Murdoch. We clearly did no such thing and we wouldn’t be taking lessons from either of these parties.

How these remarks will go down with the Liberal Democrat grassroots remains to be seen. The blogosphere has thus far been critical of the MPs’ decision.

A View from Ham Common suggests that this will haunt us for years to come.

Living on Words Alone says that the decision does nothing to promote idea that the Coalition is fulfilling its promises  to create a sleaze free political environment.

Liberal England says this decision will impress nobody.

Caron’s Musings says that Nick Clegg should tell Cameron that our MPs will vote against to force him to refer Hunt himself and avoid vote.

Update: Stephen Tall, though, says that we should conserve our energy for policy fights and leave the Tories to deal with their own failure to self regulate.

Further update: Hoping for more than slogans looks to The West Wing and Borgen for inspirations and says that bloggers can pursue moral high ground but our ministers have to consider long term consequences of their actions.

The Voice wonders, though, whether the real issue is the fact that the Prime Minister has the sole authority to refer ministers for an investigation of this sort. Surely there should be some other method, because the inherent conflict of interest is obvious. We have to be careful not to construct the sort of politically motivated monster that spent most of Bill Clinton’s second term investigating him for little good reason, but a better balance is required

We will keep you posted on events throughout the day.

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  • You are right, of course. This would have an effect of cleaning up the potential conflict of interest inherent in the current system. But action now is what is required here, and action which firmly nails Lib Dem colours to the mast.

  • I joined the Lib Dems (1985) Because they were Honest, anti nuclear (sometimes), pro renewables (Severn Barrage), not financed by big business and dodgy millionaires, Anti sleaze, Pro STV,, Anti Thatcher (High unempolyment, no future for the young), pro public transport and favoured useful infrastructure projects in times of high unemployment.

    When I see how our hardworking local activists and councillors have been let down by the leadership I could weep. To abstain in the vote Jeremy Hunt Affair is weak and unbelievable on the part of our leadership and MP’s. For many years some of the public have said ‘they’re all the same’ I’m sure I have an answer to that now.

  • Tactical error by Clegg. We should vote against and next time maybe Cameron will ask permission rather than forgiveness. Clegg is just making himself and our MPs appear weak when there is a golden opportunity to do the opposite. Noone votes Lib Dem to see them abstain on a corruption investigation.

  • “Pressed on why we were abstaining rather than voting against, she said that the Labour motion was highly opportunistic.”

    Ordinarily I might have agreed with that (and she does have a point below, considering the way Tony Blair courted Murdoch support) but this is far bigger than cheap party politics. I have admired the principled attitude taken by the Liberal Democrats in the past on so many issues such as the Iraq war, calls for an investigation into it, and the introduction of ID cards. I understand some of the constraints of being in government, but for goodness sake this matter will not break up the coalition or anything like that. Abstaining is a sign of weakness.

  • After hearing Don Foster on Radio 4 in a tangle with Louise Mensch it is quite clear that there is nothing to be gained from abstaining from this evening’s vote.
    So we know that this MP, along with Jo Swinson, will not be making an appearance in the lobby tonight. However, Swinson’s argument that LibDems were not bound by collective responsibility in this matter gives any MP the chance to vote for Hunt’s referral to the Independent Adviser, should they wish to exercise their conscience.
    Let’s hope some of them decide to do so.

  • The decision by Nick Clegg, to abstain on this issue over Jeremy Hunt is completely and utterly illogical.
    There is only one way, I can inject any logic to the decision.
    Nick Clegg knows he is finished as leader of the LibDems, therefore he has ‘politically’, dumped the LibDems before they, dump him.
    Question is, what has he been offered as a career move, post 2015?

  • Mr Dunn, not so long ago I would have regarded you views as “off the wall”, now I am not so sure. Perhaps you are right.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 13th Jun '12 - 3:03pm

    As someone who would prefer to see Jeremy Hunt investigated within an inch of his life, and for our MPs to be supporting the motion today, I have to say that I appreciate Adrian’s article. I have been incandescent with rage at decisions our leadership has made within the Coalition, most notably on welfare reform, but I don’t feel like that today. I’m not best pleased, but I see where our MPs are coming from. They seem pretty clear that David Cameron would just ignore a vote of the House of Commons anyway, so they see no value in supporting a Labour motion which is to all intents and purposes a political stunt aimed at destabilising the Government. Labour’s own behaviour in Government was not exemplary and its ministers were just as bad as cosying up to Murdoch. Adrian also makes the point that we should be fighting policy battles rather than an issue like this.

    I’m not unsympathetic to the thought process, but I do feel that it would have been very difficult for Cameron to ignore a Commons vote in the same way as it was impossible for Phil Woolas (remember him) to ignore the vote on the Ghurkas. Where’s Joanna Lumley when you need her?

  • ………………I’m not best pleased, but I see where our MPs are coming from. They seem pretty clear that David Cameron would just ignore a vote of the House of Commons anyway,…………..

    Perhaps but, and it’s a BIG but, the next time Cameron mentioned ‘open government’, ‘anti-sleaze’, etc. he’d be deafened by jeers (not just from Labour) from the media and the electorate..
    Sadly, by their actions, the next time ANY LibDem tries to mention ‘principles’ we can expect the same treatment.

  • I am confused by the stance of the Parliamentary Party. It is clear that Clegg et al believe that there are issues relating to the conduct of Hunt which require investigation. Does the need for this investigation diminish because we are in coalition? At what level of ministerial misconduct would our Parliamentarians emerge from the convenient cloak of coalition and vote for what they really believe?
    Labour’s past behaviour in office is a pathetic irrelevance.

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