Cameron did not have sexual relations with NewsCorp
David Cameron was asked a plain question in the House of Commons yesterday, most simply expressed by Dennis Skinner: “Did he ever discuss the the question of the BSkyB bid with News International?”
On nine separate occasions the Prime Minister refused to answer the question. Instead (a) he protested that he “never had one inappropriate conversation” on the subject; (b) asserted that he “completely took [him]self out of any decision-making about this bid” and “had no role in it”; and (c) repeatedly referred to the evidence given by Rebekah Brooks to the Select Committee the day before.
Later during the same debate Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, conceded the point by stating: “The discussions the Prime Minister had on the BSkyB deal were irrelevant.”
I will not comment on the Prime Minister citing in his support the denials of a woman hauled before a Parliamentary Committee to give evidence on criminal matters. An own goal is an own goal. The defender must be allowed to hang his head in shame and get on with the match.
I will not comment on the Prime Minister putting himself in a position where he has to be excluded from any discussions with a cabinet colleague on, possibly, the single biggest business deal in the country at that time. In order that he may be able to discuss it with his pals over dinner.
I will not even comment on what unrecorded, private discussions on the subject, at a social gathering, between the Prime Minister of the day and a business launching a major takeover bid, which is under review by his Government, could possibly be deemed appropriate.
But I must comment on the idea that he had “no role in the decision”. It reminds me of the evidence we heard only two days ago from John Yates. The question was whether he had helped secure a job at the MET for the daughter of Hackgate suspect Neil Wallis. His response was that he merely acted “as a postbox”.
Now we may not all be experts on mergers or business deals. We may not have experience of police recruitment procedures. We may not know the first thing about Media market shares. But most of us have had a boss. Most of us can take an educated guess on what it might feel like to have a request land on our desk which, it is made crystal clear, concerns a good buddy of our boss. So, can we start talking about the BSkyB issues like adults? Can we stop pretending that Rod Hull was completely innocent of the havoc Emu wreaked? Can we stop being Clinton-esque about it all and call a blowjob, “a blowjob”?
David Cameron removed the brief of the BSkyB deal from Vince Cable (who had made his intention to refer the merger to the Competition Commission clear), after a secretly recorded conversation revealed he had decided to “declare war on Murdoch”. It was inappropriate for the person in charge to have such strong preconceptions about the deal.
He handed the brief to Jeremy Hunt, who had said in an interview: “Rather than worry about Rupert Murdoch owning another TV channel, what we should recognise is that he has probably done more to create variety and choice in British TV than any other single person…” Some fairly strong pre-conceptions of his own, you must agree. An equally inappropriate choice. Unless one wanted the takeover waved through, that is.
The Prime Minister met assorted Murdochs and Brooks/Wades before the election. He had their former lieutenant, Andy Coulson, working for him. Immediately after the formation of the coalition Rupert Murdoch was invited into Downing Street. According to Murdoch it was “to have a cup of tea and to be thanked by Mr Cameron for the support”. Every effort was made to keep the May meeting a secret. During the first half of June he invited Rebekah Brooks to Chequers for a private meeting. On the 15th June 2010 the BSkyB bid was launched. The very next day, 16th June, Cameron attended the News International summer party. As soon as Cable’s negative stance towards the bid surfaced, he was relieved of responsibility. On 21 December 2010, the brief was handed to Murdoch groupie, Jeremy Hunt – who, it emerged, had been having his own private meetings with NewsCorp. Two days later, on 23 December, Cameron was having an early Christmas dinner with Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch.
These are the facts. Pass the cranberry sauce, please. More turkey, anyone?
Of course, I may be entirely wrong in my suspicions. Perhaps Rupert Murdoch did not fly to the UK with such urgency and secrecy in order to ensure that this ‘coalition development’ was not going to be a problem. Perhaps all matters were left to the well-informed, impartial, unimpeachable, intellectual giant that is Jeremy Hunt – with no input from Cameron. I wish you to make up your own minds on that.
Below is a ‘highlights’ audio clip of Jeremy Hunt’s performance the last time he was left without input and support from Cameron, last Monday – when Cameron decided to hide from the House of Commons in order to avoid questions. He starts by apologising for not having provided a copy of his speech, but apparently he only just received his own copy. The speech he is about to make. His own copy. Only just. Received. Enjoy.
For the avoidance of doubt, the above audio clip is a 10 minute version of a 40 minute debate, edited for satiric effect. You can read the full transcript here.