You would be forgiven for thinking the last twenty-four hours have been a political spoof of Taggart, in which a grumpy Alex Salmond wanders from crime scene to crime scene, discovering bodies of Politicians and Special Advisors and exclaims “There’s been another Murdoch”.
The Government PR machine in in full defensive mode. It is, perhaps, not the best idea, when trying to convince people that you have behaved with utter scrupulousness, to make a statement which contains a big whopper. And Jeremy Hunt did just that. Unfortunately, none of the media seem to be challenging this line and it is increasingly repeated by every hapless MP wheeled out to defend the beleaguered Secretary of State.
This is the lie: that Jeremy Hunt has gone above and beyond the call of duty by seeking advice from OFT/Ofcom at every step of the way, publishing all this advice and following it at every juncture.
He did not. And if a thing is worth saying, it is worth saying twice. He did not.
First, he only published the advice under pressure the first time the objectivity of the Government was called into question with relation to the BSkyB deal. Namely, when Cameron was revealed to have had a series of shady meetings with Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks.
Second, and most vital, Jeremy Hunt only followed the OFT/Ofcom advice when it was helpful to the bid. The one time Ofcom “caused trouble” by advising him to refer the bid to the Competition Commission (which, as an ex-OFT competition expert, I can tell you was a no-brainer), Jeremy Hunt ignored Ofcom. He initially said he was minded to refer, then delayed his decision, sought Undertakings in Lieu, which he accepted and changed his position.
The fact that it now transpires this change of heart was coordinated behind the scenes with the interested party is highly improper and makes his resignation imperative.
It is also easy to get lost in the minutiae of the emails and text messages submitted to the Leveson Inquiry – who said what to whom and with whose authorisation – and miss what James Murdoch’s said in his actual testimony. Which is clear as day. When asked why he was so hostile to the deal being referred to the Competition Commission, James Murdoch replied: “It’s incredibly inefficient for us, for the company, to be waiting on what appeared to be an indefinite process, actually, with uncertain outcomes“.
I cannot find any rational interpretation of that statement, other than “we wanted the process to stay within the gift of Jeremy Hunt, because we were assured of the result and its timing”. And they were about to get their wish, when the phone hacking scandal exploded.
There is also a concerted move to take this revelation outside its context. Its context is this: James Murdoch being friends with Osborne; Rebekah Brooks being friends with Cameron; Cameron appointing the highly questionable Andy Coulson as the Downing Street PR supremo; Rupert Murdoch being the first person to visit the newly elected PM via the Downing Street back door; Cameron announcing a scaling down of Ofcom and a cut to the BBC budget; Cameron relieving Vince Cable of responsibility the moment he made negative noises about the bid and appointing in his place a self-described “cheerleader” for the Murdochs; Cameron having dinner with Murdoch and Brooks two days later and discussing the bid (probably after riding a horse loaned to her by police chiefs now resigned in disgrace); Lobbygate; Cash for Dinners.
This is the latest in a nexus of revelations which have shown this Government, having promised to “clean up politics”, to have a improperly close and blatant tit-for-tat relationship with the corporate interests which put them in power.
I must sign off now. Murdoch Senior is about to give evidence and, the way this thing is going, he probably has pictures of Osborne, in a wig and cocktail dress, zipping up a red sports-bag.