Opinion: I don’t think Jeremy Hunt should resign

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a post I really wanted to write. But I don’t think Jeremy Hunt should resign over the Murdoch affair. Lord, I hate myself.

Anyway, ‘why so?’, you’re all bellowing at the screen. Let me explain

As of now, Jeremy Hunt has not been shown to have done anything wrong, and he maintains he has been whiter than white. The blame has been laid firmly at the door of his SpAd, Adam Smith, who has dutifully fallen his sword. Innocent until proven guilty and all that, so no reason for Hunt to go as yet.

Hence the calls for an independent inquiry to get to the bottom of all this. Leveson doesn’t have the mandate to judge if Ministerial conduct has been appropriate or not – as Tory Minsters who said there was no need for separate investigation knew full well (and Leveson himself has now made clear). So moves are afoot to get the full facts from a proper inquiry– and deal a knockout blow to Hunt’s position.

But here’s the rub. Lets presume for a moment that we get an independent inquiry. That it rules that Hunt has behaved inappropriately, and concludes that rather than adopting an independent quasi judicial role, he is seen to have done all he can to swing things in the Murdoch’s favour.

Well, there is a tariff in place for the appropriate punishment for a Minister seen to have been less than impartial on a matter like this. And strangely, it’s been established over the same case – the proposed News Corp takeover of BSkyB.

Because as we all know, Vince was shown to perhaps be less than impartial in this matter. And he wasn’t asked to resign, nor was he fired. He had responsibility for the deal taken away from him. Nothing more.

Now, I’m pretty sure we all see Vince has being firmly on the side of the angels in all this – as the unfolding events of the last 18 months have so clearly demonstrated.

But – and I take no pleasure in this – the issue here is not whether the Minister’s personal judgement is seen to be right or not, it’s not ‘which side of the fence did he jump to?’ It’s jumping off the fence at all that’s the problem – and the punishment isn’t resignation. It’s a minor reduction in your workload.

‘Aha’, others have cried when I have ventured this view, ‘there is a difference. Vince merely expressed an opinion about the Murdoch’s – he didn’t actually do anything. Hunt is alleged to have actively aided and abetted the News Corp bid – that’s much more serious.’

Which may be so. But I suspect politically it won’t be seen to be so. I can almost see Cameron now sorrowfully shaking his head as he announces that ‘ every aspect of and every Minister involved in this whole sorry affair will be investigated.’

I suspect Vince knows this. Which is why he said of Hunt,

I think he needs to be given time to defend himself and until then he remains a good colleague. I myself will explain my role in the process to the Leveson Inquiry.

We may suspect Jeremy Hunt of all sorts of nefarious wrongdoing. We’re convinced Vince has been shown to have been an astute judge of character in dealing with the Murdochs.

But we may be sensible to content ourselves with some very loud and vociferous cries of ‘Vince was right’ and leave things there.

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31 Comments

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 29th Apr '12 - 9:31am

    Both Jeremy Hunt and Vince had form for expressing views about the BSkyB bid – Hunt actually in public, Vince in the Telegraph sting. In fact, some of us, while loving Vince for being Vince, were lamenting the fact that someone in favour of the bid now had the power over it.

    It’s what they did in office that’s crucial. On one hand,you had Vince keeping Murdoch and his mates at arms length. On the other, Hunt’s SpAd was feeding them insider information.

    I am annoyed that this conduct has not been referred for a breach of the Ministerial Code. That is the appropriate action in the circumstances. If in the end of the day Hunt is found to be in breach of it, this failure to front up to it will make it all worse.

  • Nich Starling 29th Apr '12 - 10:02am

    Oh I do tire of Lib Dems lining up to back Hunt. This week the ONLY ministers on the radio defending Hunt have been Clegg, Foster, Clegg, Clegg and Clegg. . Yes, we are in a coalition, but it is NOT for Lib Dem ministers to have to line up to defend a Tory that even theTories are afraid to defend publicly.

  • Cable didn’t lie to Parliament. Hunt apparently has. Big difference there.

  • It is a question of scale really. Vince Cable had an opinion on the BSkyB bid but I am sure he would have been scrupulous around the process of the bid and in taking submissions. He made an error and quickly removed himself from any suggestion that the ‘quasi judicial process’ and decision would be undermined.

    Now, Jeremy Hunt’s office had 163 pages of emails, numerous phone calls and gave out privileged information which clearly undermined his role in the decision. To say nothing of the role of his special advisor and the implications for the ministerial code.

    In reality, JH should have never taken up the decision, but if he did he should have made strong efforts to prove that he treated both sides fairly and equally. In practise the opposite happened.

    Vince Cable, I think comes out quite well after the initial error. I am sure he is a better politician for it and would not make the same again.

    One of the interesting questions to come out of this – is who actually should make the decision on whether a minister has broken the ministerial code. It is something that Labour, under Blair (Mandelson in particular) repeatedly ducked and dived over. At the moment, A Prime Minister, ultimately makes the decision. Is it really correct for a Prime Minister to oversee whether one of his close allies and friends has broken the ministerial code ? David Cameron was pretty quick early on in this government to act if any Conservatives had behaved less than 100% correctly. That seems to have gone.

    It appears almost inevitable that JH’s position is deemed untenable and that will go. The delay will not help JH, Cameron or the Conservatives to draw a line under the affair one little bit.

  • Richard MorrisApr 29 – 9:40 am…… I just worry that Vince will be dragged in to it – and will be cited as the reason why Hunt shouldn’t resign. I’m sure this is also why Nick is still favouring the Leveson route for getting to the bottom of the Hunt affair…..

    Why shouldn’t Vince be involved? It was his foolish posturing which started the whole thing. Stephen Tall’s thread about ‘Sacking Cable’ missed the point that, by not allowing Vince to resign, we gave ‘a hostage to fate’; as you point out, how can we, as LibDems, demand the head of Hunt when we rallied behind our own?
    We should restict ourselves to ‘helpfully’ pointing out that a ministerial enquiry is the way forward; this way, if Cameron raises Cable’s impartiality, he has to answer the awkward question as to why he selected a ‘declared’ Murdoch supporter (http://www.jeremyhunt.org/news…) to replacehim.

    A part of me doesn’t believe that Hunt should ‘do a Liam Fox’ and resign and that the whole murky business should be allowed to’ run and run’. The current Tory Leadership are morally corrupt and the sooner we distance ourselves from them the better. History shows that when, as in the last two administrations, ‘sleaze’ appears the norm the electorate don’t restrict their condemnation to just those directly involved.

  • I am genuinely sorry to say this, but Vince should have been sacked, he let himself and his office down. But I can see you point that it was the leniency shown to him that means there is a case for Hunt to stay.

    However, the big difference is that the Ministerial Code states that Hunt was responsible for the actions of his advisor. If this was a civil servant, Hunt could stay, but it wasn’t. Just think of all the times Labour pulled this type of stunt to keep a Minister, this Government should be looking to rise above those dealings not emulate them…

  • Tony Greaves 29th Apr '12 - 12:49pm

    This thread is a very good example of how LDV has lost the plot.

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony

    “This thread is a very good example of how LDV has lost the plot.”

    And that’s only the half of it, because you don’t know how many comments disagreeing with the article have been deleted by the “moderators”!

  • Tony Greaves could you explain a bit further on your comment ?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 29th Apr '12 - 1:24pm

    Richard, I’m not happy that Nick has taken the Cameron line. When our ministers have been mired in controversy, the right thing has been done quickly – although in David Laws’ case, I think it was too quick and he deserved to keep his job. This is not the case for Tory ministers like Liam Fox and now Jeremy Hunt. The least that should have been done was that Hunt should have referred himself for an investigation into whether he broke the ministerial code.

    If Nick is panicking because of the repercussions for Vince, then he’s being too timid. He should not have publicly supported Cameron’s line and I’m annoyed that he did.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 29th Apr '12 - 1:32pm

    Can I just remind people that the only reason comments are moderated is because they contravene our Comments Policy which is here:

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/comment-policy

    People are at perfect liberty to agree or disagree with any article on here – but if they are going to comment, they need to be polite, be on topic, and be from who they say they’re from. Now, by rights, I should have deleted all the off topic comments on this thread, but I felt it was important to remind people of the policy. This was drawn up as a result of feedback from readers who are happy with robust debate, but less comfortable with personal abuse.

  • Can anyone tell me why Lib Dem ministers have been defending Hunt? Don Foster, on the TV today, was going further than Cameron in his enthusiasm to quash any inquiry into wrongdoing on the part of Hunt.

  • I’ll try again.

    What this article says, firstly, is that Jeremy Hunt shouldn’t resign because he hasn’t been shown to have done anything wrong. That may be arguable – though it seems difficult to reconcile with the author’s subsequent comment that “everything Hunt and his SpAd have been doing around this affair stinks to high heaven”!

    Then the article notes that there are calls for an independent inquiry, but says that the difficulty is that such an inquiry may also be critical of Vince Cable’s actions, and concludes that “we may be sensible to content ourselves with some very loud and vociferous cries of ‘Vince was right’ and leave things there.”

    In other words, it may be better not to have an inquiry, because a politician of the author’s own party may be damaged by it. How much more obviously wrong-headed could anyone be?

  • Tony Greaves, “This thread is a very good example of how LDV has lost the plot.” I totally agree, the sad bit is that they (the LibDems) just can’t seem to grasp this.

  • There is a comparison between Vince and Jeremy Hunt that is rightly within the remit of the Leveson Inquiry, their respective views before the process started and what influenced those views. The strength of those views is something that casts doubt on their ability to carry out the task but is not the issue. There should be a review of Hunt’s ministerial conduct, there was no question over Vince’s conduct in the process. Neither was appropriate to be responsible for the quasi-judicial process, but only one has been accused of perverting it.

    I suppose it’s the same for some Tories to have to support an Energy Secretary who wants action on climate change as it is for Liberals to support a Secretary of State responsible for the Media who wants a British Fox News and to destroy the BBC.

  • matt severn 29th Apr '12 - 5:44pm

    Even IF he didnt personally order his special advisor, which I doubt, and even IF the civil service knew about his Spad, which I doubt, his Spad still broke all the rules and on that alone he should resign.

  • “I suppose it’s the same for some Tories to have to support an Energy Secretary who wants action on climate change as it is for Liberals to support a Secretary of State responsible for the Media who wants a British Fox News and to destroy the BBC.”
    No, Al – being in a coalition does not mean our policies and even our consciences in a coalition are interchangeable, as you come close to suggesting.

    I don’t think Richard Morris should concern himself with how Vince Cable will be judged over his behaviour: I can assure him that most of the public would not be swayed by the PM were he to invoke the “we’re all sinners now” line.
    Although most of them won’t be aware of the gallant impartiality shown during the BSkyB bid through the actions of his special adviser Giles Wilkes, the public knows Vince has been an honest broker and will in due course learn how it was News International which played a role in exposing the Telegraph sting operation, thus giving him even greater credit for his judgement. (Granted there was a bit of swagger in that declaration of “war on Rupert Murdoch” but the Telegraph temptresses were very convincing political ingenues.)
    On last Thursday’s Question Time there was a marvelous moment when a member of the audience interrupted Diane Abbott mid-flow to champion Vince Cable’s role in the affair. It was a bravura performance from a gentleman whose yellow T-shirt and beard should hearten all those LIbDems who are out on the stump trying to counter the impression given by MPs like Don Foster who take much the same attitude to the “unlovable” Jeremy Hunt as are expressed in this opinion piece.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01gxswv/Question_Time_26_04_2012/
    I can only link the whole prog. The uplifting (for LDs) moment arrives around 30’30.

  • jenny barnes 29th Apr '12 - 5:53pm

    If the price of Jeremy Hunt going is Vince going to, then so be it. He showed himself to be foolish over the telegraph sting. It’s likely there will be a cabinet re-shuffle soon, anyway. Hunt would probably have taken over health.

  • Alex Sabine 29th Apr '12 - 6:38pm

    First let me say that I think Vince Cable and his special adviser Giles Wilkes were right to resist the overtures and blandishments from the Murdoch camp (and kudos to Giles for brushing them off with such style). It is commonplace for big business to press its case to government and indeed lobby it for favours, but that doesn’t mean governments should succumb to such lobbying.

    Indeed in my view they should resist it more often. Thus I was concerned by the announcement late last year that business leaders were to be given a hotline to individual ministers: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/8783316/Business-leaders-to-be-given-hotline-to-ministers.html.

    We were told that Vince Cable could expect calls from CEOs of the oil and gas industry, Jeremy Hunt would talk to “technology leaders”, while BIS junior minister Mark Prisk would deal with carmakers and aerospace firms.

    This dubious flirtation with French-style corporatism struck me as a thoroughly bad idea. As I wrote on Lib Dem Voice: “This threatens to be either futile or dangerous, and certainly not something liberals should support. The essence of liberalism is the dispersal of power, not its concentration; government and big business are already powerful enough without any more steps to fuse them.”

    I haven’t heard any more of this initiative, so I hope it was strangled at birth. As I said, it is understandable that corporations should lobby governments; but it is up to governments to protect the public interest, not the vested interests of individual companies or businessmen.

    If this unseemly Murdoch episode causes ministers to view lobbyists with a more jaundiced eye in future, some good will have come of it.

    There is a special reason to be wary of the advances of media moguls, which Andrew Neil (whose probing on this matter has been excellent in my opinion) put his finger on the other day: “All business men and women lobby the government: British Aerospace does it, Royal Bank of Scotland did it, and so on. But when a press baron lobbies the government, he – and they’re all ‘he’ – brings different weapons. They bring weapons of support that the head of British Aerospace cannot bring. And in a democracy, surely that should be under scrutiny and subject to full disclosure.”

  • Alex Sabine 29th Apr '12 - 6:41pm

    Geoffrey claims: “The evidence from the emails shows that Vince Cable was far more scrupulous in being nuetral in this affair than Hunt was. Yes he had his own opinions, and it was a matter of regret he disclosed them to someone he did not know. But it is also true that he wanted to delegate the decision making on the BSkyB bid to an independent legal body, so his views would not have counted anyway. In a way it is absurd to expect a politician in his position not to have a personal opinion on this bid.”

    Clearly the evidence published so far acquits Vince Cable of any charge of favouritism towards Murdoch; I don’t think there was ever any doubt about that!

    The problem is rather that he showed himself incapable of taking an impartial decision based on the evidence of whether a News Corp takeover of BSkyB would endanger media plurality. (Remember this was not a cut-and-dried question: the EU had said it saw no reason to block the takeover on competition grounds.) As Richard says, “it’s jumping off the fence at all that’s the problem”.

    Vince definitely did do this, by boasting to undercover reporters that he had set his face against the News Corp bid – or, as he put it more crudely, “I’ve declared war on Murdoch and I think we are going to win”. Plainly this was far from the quasi-judicial, impartial stance the Business Secretary was required to take.

    Geoffrey claims that this was just a personal opinion, but this does not stand up to scrutiny. Under the 2002 Enterprise Act the Secretary of State is the final arbiter of whether takeovers should go ahead. Indeed, Vince told the reporters: I have blocked it using the powers that I have got…His whole empire is now under attack…” [emphasis added]

    At this stage he had not yet even received the report from Ofcom on whether media plurality would be endangered, after which he would have to decide whether to refer the bid to the Competition Commission. Only once he had received the advice of the Competition Commission would he be in possession of enough evidence to make a decision. Yet here he was claiming to have blocked the bid already.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/robertpeston/2010/12/what_vince_cable_said_about_ru.html

    Putting the most charitable interpretation on it, you might say that in his comments in the Telegraph sting Vince was ‘sexing up’ his own role for the benefit of his presumed audience; that he had not, in fact, yet concluded that he would block the deal, but had merely refused to nod it through; and that he recognised that he would have to follow due process. Perhaps this is what he was implying with his comment that “I can’t politicise it”, although this is sharply at odds with the tone and content of his other remarks.

    In any case, his comments once published were clearly prejudicial to a fair outcome, so the decision to strip him of responsibility for the decision was fully justified. Indeed many commentators at the time (not just disgruntled Tories) suggested that only the intricate requirements of coalition, and his hero status among the Lib Dem grassroots, had kept him in his job.

  • We are asked to believe that every evening for six months straight the following exchange took place:
    “Busy day Adam?”, “Yes Jeremy”, “any contact with Murdoch’s people?”, “would you believe it, no Jeremy, not a peep out of them, all gone quiet, as if they have completely lost interest”.

  • Wasn’t Vince Cable stepping aside rather like a judge recusing himself from a case where it would be seen that he wouldn’t be impartial. Jeremy Hunt’s role of being partisan but judging the case anyway would be worse wouldn’t it?

  • Alex Sabine 30th Apr '12 - 5:21am

    So far we don’t know whether Jeremy Hunt is guilty of acting partially in the other direction and authorising the stream of email correspondence with Murdoch. If either Lord Justice Leveson or Sir Alex Allan finds that he did, Cameron should sack him.

    I agree that would make his offence worse than Vince Cable’s in that he sought to cover up his own complicity by hiding behind his SpAd Adam Smith and misleading the House of Commons as well as channelling inappropriate intelligence and advice to the Murdoch camp.

    On the face of it, it doesn’t seem very plausible that Adam Smith acted unilaterally; the claim made by another SpAd in an article the Sunday Telegraph that Smith was “dumped with dealing with this by Jeremy” seems odd given the importance and sensitivity of this takeover bid and the fact that (as Geoffrey rightly says) Cable’s indiscretion had just highlighted the need for scrupulous neutrality.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/phone-hacking/9233345/Inside-the-shady-world-of-lobbyists.html

    Even if he did not authorise the email correspondence, Hunt is responsible for the actions of his SpAd and there has been a prima facie breach of the ministerial code, so really I think Cameron should have referred the matter to Sir Alex Allan to clear up.

    Indeed, if he genuinely had no knowledge of the nature of the correspondence with News Corp, Hunt should probably have requested that a swift investigation be instigated to clear his name (and not just an appearance before Leveson).

    While there is an argument about not pre-empting Leveson, he is not responsible for policing the ministerial code and therefore I think there needs to be a separate investigation by Sir Alex Allan.

    Cameron clearly hopes to avoid this, but signalled in his Andrew Marr interview that he is willing to instigate one if there is anything dodgy in Hunt’s testimony to Leveson. In effect, he has put Hunt on probation, as various commentators have put it.

  • DM AndyApr 29 – 10:59 pm………Wasn’t Vince Cable stepping aside rather like a judge recusing himself from a case where it would be seen that he wouldn’t be impartial. Jeremy Hunt’s role of being partisan but judging the case anyway would be worse wouldn’t it?…………

    Er, No! It was like a judge, in chambers, telling a member of the public that, before hearing the evidence, he thought the defendant guilty.
    I, like Tony Greaves (but probably for different reasons), think LDV has lost the plot.

  • @Geoffrey Payne
    Even after the Dowler phone hacking evidence exploded in July last year, the Murdochs were still prepared to use Jeremy hunt to avoid a referral to Ofcom.
    Nick Clegg urged Rupert Murdoch to “do the decent thing” and reconsider the bid, and Hunt announced he would make a new Commons statement.
    But just minutes before that statement was due to be delivered , News Corporation announced that it was withdrawing its undertakings to hive off Sky News and instead – was prepared to “engage with” with the Competition Commission on the grounds that its takeover of BSkyB would not affect plurality of media ownership.
    So maybe it was a good thing Vince had left the scene by then after all.

  • “The problem is that politicians inevitably have opinions on these things, that is why they are politicians.”

    But of course in Cable’s case there was much more to it than “having an opinion.” He saw himself as having “declared war” on one of the parties on whom he was sitting in (quasi) judgment. That was obviously unacceptable.

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