Rolling Blog on today's Leveson allegations
By Paul Goodman
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9pm Four final thoughts as tomorrow looms:
- We've heard nothing yet from the Liberal Democrats in particular and Vince Cable in particular. Mr Cable isn't shy of briefing the media, and has a bit of a history with the BSkyB bid, to put it mildly. He is in a position to destablise the Culture Secretary - though any such move by him would risk a backlash by Conservative MPs.
- Jeremy Hunt's statement has won him time, but will David Cameron back his handling of the bid at PMQs tomorrow? The Prime Minister hasn't done so to date, and Ed Miliband is sure to press him on the matter.
- Mr Miliband may have "gone too early" with his resignation call. The Culture Secretary can argue that the worst-looking e-mails come not from Adam Smith, but from Frederic Michel. Until or unless there is a gun with more smoke appears Mr Hunt may be able to tough it out.
- Although I've found no great enthusiasm for Mr Hunt from talking to Conservative MPs, there is visceral resistance to Labour's bid to force his resignation. If the Culture Secretary can survive the week he's in the hands of Leveson - whose report will be published long after the Olympics have gone.
- And just to repeat: we now wait for Rupert Murdoch tomorrow.
Jeremy Hunt has issued a statement as follows:
“Now is not a time for kneejerk reactions. We’ve heard one side of the story today but some of the evidence reported meetings and conversations that simply didn’t happen.
“Rather than jump on political bandwagon, we need to hear what Lord Justice Leveson thinks after he’s heard all the evidence.
“Let me be clear my number one priority was to give the public confidence in the integrity of process. I asked for advice from independent regulators – which I didn’t have to do – and I followed that advice to the letter.
“I would like to resolve this issue as soon as possible which is why I have today written to Lord Justice Leveson asking if my appearance can be brought forward. I am very confident that when I present my evidence the public will see that I conducted this process with scrupulous fairness.”
- Mr Hunt is denying that he was a cheerleader for Murdoch's BSkyB bid or that he was a "huge ally". He is insisting that he should have the opportunity to tell Leveson his own side of the story. John Whittingdale, the Chairman of the Culture Select Committee, has come out in Mr Hunt's defence.
- Ed Miliband has now piled on the pressure by calling on the Culture Secretary to resign: "He was being a back-channel for the Murdochs. He cannot stay in his post and if he refuses to resign the Prime Minister must show some leadership and fire him." Will tomorrow be a "Kinnock moment" - remembering Westland - for Labour's leader at PMQs?
- The right-of-centre papers look very bad for Mr Hunt. The Mail says he is "on the brink". The Telegraph is describing the e-mails as "devastating". Ominously, its Editor is tweeting that the Culture Secretary "must go". Media group rivalries with Murdoch and resentment over Leveson itself are coming home to roost.
- Are the e-mails really consistent with Mr Hunt's semi-judicial role? The tone and frequency of the exchanges between Michel and Smith certainly raise questions about whether it has been adhered to, and about the Culture Secretary's statements to the Commons - and about the difference between the way Mr Hunt and Vince Cable handled the bid.
- Is the Culture Secretary David Cameron's "human shield"? And will Rupert Murdoch target George Osborne as well as David Cameron tomorrow? Iain Martin has suggested the first and Jim Pickard the second. Downing Street will be desperate to hold its position until it finds out what the Dirty Digger has up his sleeve for tomorrow.
- Can Mr Hunt survive as Culture Secretary, even in the short-run? The essence of Mr Murdoch's evidence is that Mr Hunt acted improperly in relation to the BSkyB bid. I've no intention of reproducing every excitable comment on the matter. But you will see from that sent by the Financial Times's Political Correspondent earlier this afternoon (look above) that sober observers are taking Mr Murdoch's evidence very seriously.
Is the Culture Secretary's defence strong enough? It seems to be that Fréd Michel, an adviser to Mr Murdoch, has exaggerated the content of e-mail exchanges with Adam Smith, Mr Hunt's Special Adviser. The Leveson Enquiry apparently now has these e-mails online. These are doubtless being rifled through by journalists and others as I write. Downing Street has said that it has confidence in the Culture Secretary - but hasn't said that about his Department's handling of the BSkyB bid.
How will Labour run with this hare? John Mann was out and about earlier calling for a statement, and Harriet Harman has now called for Mr Hunt to resign. The Opposition will want to drag the Culture Secretary to the Commons as swiftly as possible, and will doubtless be looking for a little help from the Speaker.
- What will the Liberal Democrats do? Remember that Mr Hunt was given the brief for the bid after it was taken away from Vince Cable - the Business Secretary had boasted that he had "declared war on Rupert Murdoch". Watch for Mr Cable's reaction.
- How strong is Conservative support for the Culture Secretary? Not strong at all, according to James Forsyth. It's worth remembering in this context that Mr Hunt has been touted as a future Conservative leader. Keep an eye on the Treasury.
- What knock-on effect will today's evidence have on David Cameron himself? His own relationship with Rebecca Brooks was back under the spotlight earlier today in Mr Murdoch's evidence. Did he anticipate the consequences of Leveson when it was set up?
- What bomb is Rupert Murdoch, who gives evidence to Leveson tomorrow, primed to explode?