Simon Hughes calls for independent inquiry into Jeremy Hunt

As the BBC News reports here, Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes last night called for the independent advisor on the ministerial code to investigate whether the allegations that Conservative culture secretary Jeremy Hunt was too friendly to the Murdochs are accurate:

Deputy leader Simon Hughes has become the first senior Liberal Democrat to join calls for an inquiry into whether Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt breached the ministerial code of conduct. Downing Street says there are no plans to investigate the contact between News Corp and Mr Hunt’s ex-special adviser. Mr Hughes said he could not understand why the issue was not being referred to the independent watchdog. …

Mr Hughes said on the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday that at the moment he did not think Mr Hunt should resign. But he added: “What I cannot understand is why the matter of the ministerial code of conduct is not something the prime minister immediately should refer to the person who’s been given the job to do it. He has so far, I gather, resisted doing it. I don’t think it gets in the way of the Leveson Inquiry and the evidence – it’s a separate matter. I don’t know why he hasn’t done it but I would have thought, to give confidence in the system, I hope the prime minister reconsiders his view. That must be in Jeremy’s interest. If Jeremy is correct in what he’s said, he’ll be vindicated. If he’s not, then he has to take the consequences.”

Simon’s view differs from that of Don Foster, the party’s culture spokesperson, who has publicly backed Jeremy Hunt and said we should await the Leveson inquiry report. I think Simon has called this entirely right, and accurately represents the views not only of Lib Dems but also the wider public.

Though David Cameron and Ed Miliband are keen to shrug off any responsibility on behalf of the Conservative/Labour parties for cosying-up to the Murdochs, the Lib Dems are right to point out that they’ve never kow-towed to News Corp — a point Nick Clegg ad-libbed into PMQs this week, as I blogged here.

The Leveson inquiry will continue its examination of media ethics. Meanwhile the Prime Minister should ask Sir Alex Allan to examine his culture secretary’s. As Simon points out, if there’s been no breach of the ministerial code Jeremy Hunt can rest easy.

* 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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27 Comments

  • Finally. This is woefully late and should be taken up but the wider party. The problem, highlighted I am afraid by your previous offering on this Stephen, is that so far the party has used this affair purely as a stick to beat Labour with or to excuse Cable’s inexcusable indiscretions.

    Labour have a despicable history with News Corp, but at this point, and in the middle of a series of elections, the open goal, and the most pertinent issue is the behaviour of Hunt.

  • There’s a timing issue with this. We’re less than 100 days until the Olympics begin: unless Hunt’s portfolio for the Games is moved on to someone else, we could have the embarrassing situation in which a minister living under a cloud of suspicion has to represent Britain as it welcomes the world. A proper enquiry, yes, but some remedial action as well.

  • SURESH CHAUHAN 27th Apr '12 - 9:32am

    I am glad that Simon has said what is so obvious. All ministers are responsible for upholding the ministerial code of conduct. We have an established structure/procedure for monitoring this in the office of Sir Alex Allen.
    It is quite obvious that Jeremy Hunts special adviser, Adam Smith was in breach of his duties and that is why he has resigned. But, according to the generally accepted understanding of the ministerial code of conduct, Jeremy Hunt is responsible for the actions of Adam Smith. And so, a referral to Alex Allen is the obvious thing to do.

    The Leveson inquiry was not set up to look into ministerial code of conduct.

    Once again, I am disappointed that the Lim Dem leadership in the Coalition Government has allowed Cameron and Hunt a free hand in what is a clear attempt to get away scot free for supporting Murdochs in every underhand way possible. First, Cameron meets James Murdoch socially where James discusses the BSKYB deal. Then Adam Smith is allowed to pass important confidential information to the Murdochs. There is also the clear possibilty that there were private telephone conversations between Hunt and the Murdochs.

  • As an ex member of the Party – I [too] think Simon has called this entirely right, and [believe he is very likely to] accurately represent the views not only of Lib Dems but also the wider public.

  • We don’t need an inquiry to sack Hunt. He is responsible for his Spad. Hunt should be fired on the strength of the Murdoch dossier. It’s about time people called a spade a spade. A competent administration would get a new minister in to get on with the Olympic preparations. Contractual terms with spads need to be reviewed to make sure that anyone tempted to divulge sensitive commercial information has to face not only the sack, but severe financial penalties, perhaps clawback of pay and jail time. Hunt and his cronies/spads are merely the latest in a long line of Westminster people who think they are above the rules.

  • Keith Browning 27th Apr '12 - 10:48am

    If Hunt knew what was going on then he is guilty.

    If he didn’t know what was going on, (which is the usual excuse made by those in authority when they are found with their nose in the trough), then he is guilty of gross incompetance and gross negligance.

    It is rather like an Agatha Christie story where Lord Snooty sacks all the staff to cover up for his crime.

    These people in authority think the rest of us are stupid. The only stupid thing we did was to elect any of them in the first place!

  • Simon Hughes is right. The “one rogue Spad” defence strains credibility to breaking point and beyond. Are we really meant to believe Smith was passing on detailed information to News Corp about what Hunt was going to say in the Commons without Hunt’s blessing?

  • David from Ealing 27th Apr '12 - 12:39pm

    The fact that Hunt had relationships with Murdoch etc should have ruled him out of the role in the first place.

  • I was gratified to hear Simon’s measured demolition of, not only Hunt’s, but Cameron’s positioning on this matter (a great pity LDV was so slow in reacting).

    Cameron’s reference shows that the Leveson inquiry is now being used as a ‘first line of defence’ by to delay investigation on the collusion between the Tory leadership and the Murdoch empire. Those remarking on Hunt’s bias must also remember Cameron’s pre-election promotion of NI over such bodies as the BBC.

    As an aside…The thread regarding a “Phase 2” coalition agreement sadly ignores the ‘sleaze factor’. Such misuses/abuses of power dogged both last administrations but, and it’s a big but, these manifested themselves in the latter stages of their respective terms. The current Tory side of the coalition appear to be ‘going for the record’ from the start of their tenure; Liam Fox, Peter Cruddas, Jeremy Hunt, Rebecca Brooks and even a police horse, show a ‘Bullingdon Club’ attitude to the public. Let us, as a party, take care to remember the old adage that “He who sups with the devil should use a long spoon”.

  • John Roffey 27th Apr '12 - 1:15pm

    @ Jason, with regard to Cameron’s culpability – I liked Benedict Brogan’s article in the Telegraph which included:

    David Cameron looked frightened, which is unusual. It must be serious. He knows this one ends up on his desk. Jeremy Hunt is a sideshow – or soon to be a closed sideshow. As is Adam Smith. If the PM is the organ grinder, then the SpAd is the monkey’s monkey.

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/benedictbrogan/100153424/jeremy-hunt-is-a-sideshow-this-one-goes-all-the-way-up/

  • John RoffeyApr 27 – 1:15 pm Thanks for the link….BTW, as with all such articles, I find the ‘comments’ as illuminating as the report.
    Personally, I find Cameron’s links to Murdoch even more reprehensible than Blair/Brown (and that’s saying something). However, my main concern is that the wave of ‘sleaze’, that emanates from the Tory part of this coalition, is likely to taint us.
    I believe a Labour party, under Milliband, could not win a General Election. However, I believe a coalition, under Cameron, could lose one and the result may well be a near extinction for us.

  • John Roffey 27th Apr '12 - 4:20pm

    @ Jason. I think that near extinction was a virtual certainty – as things were going. This issue provides an unexpected life line for recovery – because the Murdoch links do not touch the Party presently[?]. However, that could be cut very quickly if an absolutely correct course is not navigated from now on.

    Not only are the Tories and Labour deeply mired, but also Salmon!

  • John Roffey 27th Apr '12 - 4:43pm

    @ Jason – on illuminating articles and their comments.

    For me this was, by far, the most powerfully illuminating article of recent times:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2132919/Bankers-drowning-money-Out-touch-politicians-Unaccountable-quangocrats-Not-generations-run-Britain-far-removed-common-man.html

    As was the highest rated comment from ‘Jon, UK’:

    ‘An excellent article and true, there is no democracy in this country and this will eventually lead to more R10TS and perhaps even REV0LUTI0N. Trouble is indeed brewing.’

    Before the recent revelations a YouGov survey found that the 62% of the voters believe politicians consistently lie – what must it be now?

  • John RoffeyApr 27 – 4:20 pm…………… – because the Murdoch links do not touch the Party presently[?]……

    Your emphasis on’presently’ is well founded.
    The first voice on Radio 4 enthusiastically defending Hunt was our very own Danny Alexander. The interview was about the ‘double-dip’ but it didn’t need the ‘brightest button in the box’ to have grasped the fact that whoever appeared would be grilled about the Hunt affair. I’m unsure whether Danny enjoys ‘fagging’ for Osborne but when asked to be the first head over the parapet my response would have been, “After you”.
    wouldn’d;$Ye

  • Keith Browning 27th Apr '12 - 5:34pm

    @ John Roffey

    ….. and if we do try to organise a revolution their mates in MI5 will spy on us and say what we are planning is not democratic. Britain does not have a democracy in the true sense of the word. There is no-one to vote for who represents the views of the vast majority of the population. The LibDems used to be a serious avenue to take when this situation arose previously – but no longer. Surely there is nothing in the Coalition agreement that says Nick and the rest have to support the Tory department of sleeze. They should stand up and be counted..!!

  • John Roffey 27th Apr '12 - 6:39pm

    @ Keith Browning.

    I had assumed that Jon UK meant riots and revolution in the Tottenham sense. That the clear injustice of the austerity measures, of which only 10% have taken effect, and the generally accepted, long-term, continued downwards spiral that impacts on almost everyone but the richest – would spark riots.

    The danger is that if these become co-ordinated through one of the more extreme organizations such as the BNP or EDL – there could be a true revolution with a completely unknown outcome.

  • Keith Browning 27th Apr '12 - 9:36pm

    British history since William arrived in 1066 has been littered with major revolts by the population. All have failed and were often put down mercilessly. The history books (written by those in power) dont make too much of them now but most were big affairs at the time, and some not too long ago, in historic terms. They were usually associated with a food or tax crisis and accompanied by government measures that were seen to be grossly unfair to large swaithes of the population. Does any of this sound familiar???

    They obviously don’t teach history at Eton – or perhaps they do..!

  • Richard Dean 27th Apr '12 - 9:55pm

    @Keith. Did they really all fail? Wasn’t one of them successful in achieving some form of independence of parliament from the crown?

  • Bizarre criticism of LibDem leadership here – it’s almost like some people think Simon Hughes never speaks to Nick Clegg!

    Hughes’ voice obviously reflects the will of the wider membership and definitely something the leadership is prepared to take action on, but clearly the first noise of movement cannot come from a place which undermines confidence the coalition partnership.

    I fully expect Sir Alex Allan to be directed to launch an investigation in the next few days, and I hope his remit will be sufficient to answer the underlying question of tory dealings with Murdoch over the potential takeover of Sky.

    Following on from the scandals surrounding Andy Coulson, Steve Hilton & co, David Cameron should be very concerned that he is on the fringes of being implicated and must be anxious that his reputation is so damaged that his position comes into question.

  • OranjepanApr 27 – 10:10 pm……………….Bizarre criticism of LibDem leadership here – it’s almost like some people think Simon Hughes never speaks to Nick Clegg………….

    Well they’re certainly not on the same wavelength at the moment.

    After all, Clegg said: “I think we’ve already got an agreement Jeremy Hunt will go the Leveson pretty quick.”. As far as I can see, the only reason for such a statement was to pre-empt any immediate independent action.

    However, Leveson’s spokesman said that Hunt’s request to bring his evidence session forward had been turned down “in the interests of fairness to all”; a distinct ‘rap on the knuckles’ for Clegg’s presumption.

  • Has Hunt not resigned yet? I’m suprised his Tory colleagues don’t push him, given that a long protracted conclusion to this will keep the theme of “Tory Sleaze” uppermost most in the voters’ minds for a long period.

  • alistairApr 28 – 7:14 am……..Has Hunt not resigned yet? I’m suprised his Tory colleagues don’t push him, given that a long protracted conclusion to this will keep the theme of “Tory Sleaze” uppermost most in the voters’ minds for a long period…………..

    I doubt Cameron will want to lose yet another ‘Firewall’.

  • On Keith Browning’s point about ‘riots and revolutions’ successful or otherwise. You only have to think back to 1989 / 90 to the Poll Tax revolt and riots, to see what was essentially a popular movement against that tax, which led to the fall of Thatcher, and the tax’s replacement by something much closer to the previous Rates system (although desperately unfair in its own way).

    On John Roffey’s point about this being a lifeline to Lib Dem recovery, as we hadn’t been involved with Murdoch etc in same way as Tories and Labour, I thought the Health and Social Care bill presented a similar way out, but when it came to it, what did the Lib Dem leadership do? Ensured our parliamentarians generally voted for it, with largely unspecified concessions. Gaining no public support at all. Good for Simon, on the Hunt issue, but if a Lib Dem line on this is remembered, it will be the support for the Hunt / Cameron line by Lib Dem ministers in Cabinet, as detailed above.

  • I notice nobody has picked up on Don Foster, our Culture spokesman’s, comments supporting Hunt. This only serves to underline how disappointing his general performance in this role has been. Up to now he had been pretty much invisible and now that he’s put his head above the parapet it’s only to support a doomed Tory. His reputation in arts circles is pretty dire – totally ineffective.

  • Much was made on Newsnight last night that there is an independent advisor whose purpose is to investigate the actions of Ministers – and of the fact that he has nothing to do at the moment! This is in contrast to Leveson who might be described as overstretched.

    Whilst it is completely understandable why Cameron should want to kick the Hunt affair into the long grass – why would NC want to help him in this regard? Given, from all that we know, it seems indisputable that Cameron has got far too close to Murdoch and has been prepared to do his bidding. Once Hunt goes, as surely he must, Cameron is in the firing line and it is difficult to see how he can survive.

    NC must know this. Why would he risk the Party’s reputation by aiding Cameron – surely the Coalition agreement is between two parties – not the two men who are their leaders? Presumably if Cameron is forced out NC would simply work with the new Tory leader – so why seek to protect him?

  • Further undermining the argument that Hunt and Clegg ‘talk’…….Both the Lib Dem deputy leader, Simon Hughes, and Lorely Burt, who chairs the Lib Dem parliamentary party, called for Hunt to be referred immediately to Allan.

    But Clegg, supposedly ‘in-tune’, parrots Cameron’s assertion and contradicts them by saying, “Unless anyone has got a better idea I think having a judge where a cabinet minister needs to give evidence under oath is about the best context to really get down to find out what happened or what didn’t happen.”

    Alexander and Clegg have no need to pass an opinion; they can be excused for not demanding a resignation/enquiry but a dignified silence or a straight, “This is a matter for the Prime Minister” is preferable to slavishly following Cameron.
    I thought the ‘love-in’ of the Rose Garden was history but, clearly, Clegg and Alexander both feel far more affinity to Cameron/Osborne than to their own.

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