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Hunt survives, but what’s the point?

June 1, 2012

Jeremy Hunt, the beleaguered Culture Secretary, is hanging on after his day-long appearance before Leveson. There have been many descriptions of Hunt, none flattering, as he seeks to dig himself out of the many holes he so thoughtlessly jumped into. The most accurate one is that he is PM David Cameron’s human shield; given Cameron anointed him in full knowledge of his pom-pom waving for News and has defended him ever since, if he falls then why shouldn’t DC?

Except that it emerged during Hunt’s mainly tedious testimony that, as with so many government decisions, the Puppet Master is really gorgeous George Osbourne, the Chancellor. His silky ‘I hope you like our solution’ text informing Hunt he was to usher in News ownership of BSkyB, definitely had Bond villain overtones. Osborne, remember, has more close personal buddies at News than Cameron and Hunt put together, and that’s loads.

The funniest description of Hunt, with his Tin Tin quiff, was that he looks like a kid’s TV presenter, while his mini-me Special Adviser Adam Smith, with matching quiff, looks like a children’s TV watcher.

Actually, Smith cut a genuinely pathetic figure in his evidence. He has been a close adviser to Hunt for six years; Hunt claims to rate him very highly and admitted Smith would be completely tuned in to what Hunt wanted, both in policy and practical terms. Yet he claimed Smith never told about him the lobbying onslaught from News and therefore couldn’t have counselled him, or ordered him, to tell the pantomime villain of the piece, Fred Michel, to take a hike.

If it is true he didn’t know, then Hunt is guilty of the same wilful blindness and incompetence that James Murdoch was guilty of in not knowing about the hacking at the News of the World. Of course, both claims of ignorance stretch credulity beyond breaking point.

Whether he knew or not, Hunt has proved himself a terrible employer and a worse friend. Hunt – and his senior civil servants who are paid a lot of money to stop this kind of thing – hung Smith out to dry in a quite shameful way.

The Ministerial Code says Ministers are responsible for their special advisors, it’s that simple. Smith screwed up badly and left. Hunt should have been responsible in the managerial and pastoral sense for someone who was his employee and close colleague. But Cameron has decided he doesn’t need to go and there doesn’t even need to be a review of his actions in the context of the Code. Labour has forced a vote on that and, you never know, there might be enough bruised Lib Dems around they might win it.

Either way, Hunt’s credibility as a minister and a decent kind of chap are over. He’s minister for keeping his head down until the Olympics are over and then he’ll be banished to Agriculture or worse in a late summer reshuffle.


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