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A Quasi-Disgraced Government

June 3, 2012

The truth of the Hunt affair is buried in a lot of waffle.

Sturdyblog clarifies.


After the bunting has come down and the union jacks have become just colourful litter, after the last cake on the last stand has been sold, cut-price for being as stale as our growth forecast, after the last drop of champagne has been drained from the crystal flutes and we begin to count the cost to our economy of the extra holiday, questions will persist over the Jeremy Hunt affair.


A lot of these questions have been obscured by rather esoteric debates about the Ministerial Code (which, there is no doubt in my mind, Jeremy Hunt has broken in a variety of ways). They have been twisted by a general lack of understanding of his position as adjudicator of the BskyB bid; smoke and mirrors. It is easy to clarify the situation with a simple hypothetical. Let’s transfer the scenario to a judicial setting – an area in which everyone has an instinctive understanding of propriety.

There is a huge legal dispute, involving ACME plc., before a judge. Halfway through the trial, the presiding Judge Cable is secretly recorded expressing anti-ACME feelings. He is immediately sacked.

The chosen replacement is Judge Hunt. Judge Hunt has expressed both publicly and privately, that he is a huge fan of ACME. Judge Hunt has written to the man responsible for allocating cases to judges, to say that he thinks a decision against ACME would be a disaster. He has expressed serious worry that “we might screw this up”. On the very morning of the day he is appointed, Judge Hunt has messaged the ACME point-man responsible for the case and congratulated him on clearing a legal hurdle.

Judge Hunt continues to chat regularly on the phone with the CEO of ACME throughout the case, despite legal advice that it’s inappropriate. Neither recalls precisely what was said. He continues to message the ACME point-man throughout the case – a total of 532 communications. He apologises to him and asks for understanding: “hope you understand why we have to have the long process”. He expresses longing to have a coffee with him “like the good old days” when “this is over”. On the day of a key decision, he is told “well played” and replies “Thanks think we got right solution!”

Meanwhile, his private Clerk is leaking confidential information to ACME throughout the case, including key decisions before Judge Hunt has announced them. Thousands of communications. Judge Hunt will later claim that he asked his Clerk to have this contact, gave his Clerk no parameters for this contact, but that it is not really his fault.

There’s more. The man who decided to replace Judge Cable with Judge Hunt is also a big ACME fan. He owes them big for their support in securing his position. He has secret meetings with the Head of ACME. He goes horse-riding with ACME executives. He has a close relationship with the ACME CEO. He has hired an ex-ACME man to be his Head of Communications. As a matter of fact, he discusses the case with top ACME people at a private ACME Christmas dinner, only two days after appointing Judge Hunt.

That’s the situation in a nutshell. Do you trust the decision? Do you think the necessary propriety has been observed?

Hunt points to the fact that he made life quite difficult for BSkyB during the process. But can this not be explained simply by his Special Advisor’s email to Michel in which he says that JH will need time to “create some political cover”? Can it not be explained by his own comment at a meeting with BSkyB where he says “It was essential to a robust outcome that the SoS act reasonably in coming to a decision” which can be loosely translated as “I have to be seen to give you a hard time or we’re going to get judicially reviewed”?

He bleats that he has “compartments” in his mind which, the moment he was appointed, isolated his personal views. So why did he continue calling, emailing, texting BSkyB dozens of times a week throughout the process, the rational observer may ask? “I wanted to be courteous” comes the response. Well, if Courteous Bending Over Backwards Gymnastics is an event in the upcoming Olympics, 532 text messages ought to secure Team GB their first medal. And if Pole-Vaulting Over All Propriety is an event, Hunt is going for the Gold.

His apologists point out that Hunt may have said the wrong thing, but actually did nothing wrong. Or to put it more simply, when it came to Vince Cable the paramount factor is what he said – not what he did. But when it came to Jeremy Hunt – ignore what he said and look at what he did.

He left himself with no discretion on the BSkyB bid, Cameron says. I beg to differ. When it came to the absolute key decision – of whether to refer the bid or accept NewsCorp undertakings – Hunt made precisely the choice expected of him.

Let us not forget that, as the telephone-hacking scandal exploded over the heads of this poisonous posse like a rancid piñata, forcing NewCorp to withdraw their bid, Hunt was about to wave it through. And that, ultimately, is the only action of real relevance.

All’s well that ends well, you might say. The scandal was exposed in time, the bid withdrawn, the horse returned to pastures new, the laptop retrieved from the bin, the celebrities compensated, Hugh Grant’s hair looked gorgeous and everyone had a good time. So, why does all this matter?

It matters because Cameron is meant to be the adjudicator of first instance when it comes to the behaviour of ministers. And he looked at this affair – this affair which would cause Niccolò Machiavelli to do a double take – and concluded within 20 minutes that everyone had behaved marvellously. Moreover, everyone had behaved so obviously marvellously that it did not even merit further investigation.

By doing so, he sets a precedent. He sets the standard for other ministers, for MPs, for lobbyists, for the entire machine which governs our everyday lives. He puts his seal of approval on a limbo-dancing government whose only motto appears to be “how low can you go”.

I leave you with a brief extract from CAMERONCAM – a series of video blogs made by our then-future-soon-to-be-ex Prime Minister. The subject of this one is how he intends to clean up politics.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. kayelemeno permalink
    June 3, 2012 6:09 pm

    Thanks for digging out the clip. What a duplicitous wanker.

  2. Rich Johnson permalink
    June 3, 2012 6:39 pm

    Well, I think you’re all being *very* hard on poor David, he did cut down on the number of Special Advisers, as promised, by one.

  3. June 3, 2012 7:09 pm


  4. Mirik permalink
    June 3, 2012 8:15 pm

    I’m quite afraid for you Brits, that all of this will be burried under Jubilee/Olympics/European Football and that the Cameron/Osborne Tory axis of pure evil will be able to finish their term without injury whilst injuring your already private sector/billionaire-scarred country even more. I seriously fear for that.

    We were tremendously lucky in the Netherlands (well, outside of having a RW moron-coalition in the first place of course), our right wing coalition fell for far less, no scandals just a populist stupid enough to try seize the moment. Oddly a populist that opposes austerity because he opposes Brussels (is a mad right winger in all other if more classical respects, Wilders is his name).

    Also, what’s that picture of young Michael Palin doing in the post? Are we sure Jeremy Hunt is not a Monty Python sketch done by a secretly cloned army of Michael Palins?

  5. June 3, 2012 8:45 pm

    Oh look. He knows how to load a dish washer. He must be an ordinary bloke at heart.

    Excellent post, as ever Alex. So good in fact that I wonder if I may reproduce some of it on my blog, with full credit to its origins, of course?

    I’m talking about your parable of the ACME Corps and the two judges. I think that explains the whole situation perfectly.

  6. June 4, 2012 9:22 am

    Agree with Tris: that ACME bit is fantastic. Nearly threw up, though, at the Camdishwasher Show. Should have had a health warning.

  7. June 4, 2012 9:37 am

    Democracy, decency, integrity, all the values I always believed were fundamental to the British system .
    Well done Cameron I sincerely believed it could not get worse than Blair.
    It has.

    Given their about face on Green issues, – what a marvellous weekend to bury their additional sleeze, I doubt there will be many lights left on in Britain as I leave.

  8. DiY permalink
    June 4, 2012 10:12 am

    Brilliant, top stuff….carry on!

  9. DavidBartlett permalink
    June 4, 2012 3:07 pm

    Some MPs, Ministers, judges, policemen will behave badly. Irrespective of political persuasion. What is, as you imply, the most reprehensible result from this apallingly shaming Hunt affair is the ultimate result. It would have left a bad smell in the air had Hunt skulked off as quickly as he should have done. For him to hang around, for Cameron to endorse him and declare his innocence within a few seconds of Hunt crawling battered by his own falsehoods from the Leveson Enquiry, is a very serious plunge. Cameron has in one fell swoop redefined the lowest standard acceptable in public life. What an achievement! Aside from leading a Cabinet full of self-serving incompetents, he is now giving them a wider pasture in which they may indulge their worst proclivities. Probability tells us that moral failings are inevitable… But they should ALWAYS be punished. Yet again, the unelected Mr Cameron leads us towards an abyss, darker and more serious than those already uncovered…

  10. Bob permalink
    June 4, 2012 3:53 pm

    If you stuck a pin in his fat face, he’d slowly but entirely deflate, leaving the room smelling of guffs.

  11. June 4, 2012 5:21 pm

    Hunt can be re categorised correctly by the substitution of one letter. Unfortunately Cameron, while he starts off well, the rest, whether as a word or acronym defeats me.

    • susan permalink
      June 5, 2012 1:18 pm

      And what would that word be, John? Would it be HUNK? Oh, no, let me guess – it might be a crude, sexist, hate-filled and misogynist epithet. Can you actually say something clever, please?

  12. Payguy permalink
    June 4, 2012 7:09 pm

    For a while now I have been focusing on the question of what economic policies would cure the Global Financial Crash. This is as we have seen the trivial question with a straightforward answer. 

    The real question I should have been asking is why hasn’t a solution been proposed and debated. The shocking answer I have come up with is that those with the power to get us out of this mess have decided it is not in their interest to fix the world economy. 

    Consider that under austerity the relative wealth of the world richest people has increased. For example the Times Rich List of the 1000 wealthiest people in the UK has shown their combined wealth has increased by 5% in the last 12 months to a new record high of £414 billion-

    As an aside we might ask why these people are so desperate to earn their next billion. My own preconception is their greed is a product of the way they were potty trained, serious only child syndromes and seriously bad bullying in certain English boarding schools. Certainly these people are dysfunctional enough that they are capable of inflicting limitless misery on everybody else in order to get exactly what they want. 

    Back to the point though which is to compare the effect of austerity on the super rich and the other 99.999% of the population. The effects of the austerity policies propagated by the Tory led coalition have been severe and immediate 
    With average incomes dropping over 6% last year in the UK (according to ONS earnings figures). 

    Indeed austerity is likely, with only 10% of the Tories cuts implemented, to intensify and carry on for at least a decade. For example see last years IFS report- 

    Presenting its analysis of 2011 autumn statement, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) predicted real median household incomes would be no higher in 2015-16 than they were in 2002-3. In other words, more than a decade will have passed without any increase in living standards for those on average incomes. The same analysis estimates 1 in 4 children will also end up in poverty. 

    So the implications are clear. Our current policies lead to rising incomes for the ultra rich but grinding poverty for everybody else. But what would endanger this balance and result in policies that increased living standards for the 60 million UK citizens as the expense of constraint in inequality for the ultra wealthy?

    To my mind the answer to this and the reason the entire right wing press, the Institute of Directors, CBI, economic think tanks, Tory donors and so forth are behind the austerity is the role of wage equalisation in international trade. 

    It has been known for a long while ( ) that when two countries enter a free trade agreement, wages for identical jobs in both countries tend to approach each other. After the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed, for instance, unskilled labor wages gradually fell in the United States, at the same time as they gradually rose in Mexico.[citation needed] The same force has applied more recently to the various countries of the European Union.

    The implication of this is that globalisation has begun to open up the huge workforces of China and India who are currently paid much lower wages than their US and European counterparts. 

    Given that we know, through Factor Price Equalisation, as long as we continue free trade, that the wages of these workers are going to equalise over the next 20 years. 

    There are of course two ways that wages could equalise. In the first scenario governments in Europe and the US deliberately pursue their current austerity program’s and suppress workers wages. The Chinese and Indian wages gradually rise to meet our levels and the converged wage for workers in a decade or twos time is modest. This scenario of course supplies much larger profit margins to the ultra wealthy owners and managers of multinational corporations as their wage bill is low. Bankers are happy to as austerity allows greater indebtedness to them and inflation isn’t allowed to eat into the real interest paid by households on the debts owed to those that have lent the money. As a side benefit, privatising the profitable parts of the state (tuition fees, the NHS, NATs etc) under the excuses of austerity allows further tax payer backed profit opportunities. 

    The other scenario for wage equalisation- sovereign debt monetization, tax reform , financial transaction taxes, Keynsian stimulus etc- are not to be welcomed by the global elite. They circumvent the Austerity for the hundreds of millions of citizens in the US and Europe but at the cost of wage equalisation at a higher level with China and India. 

    This is an unacceptable outcome for the worlds global elite who will lose profit margin from the higher wage bills they will need to pay their workers. This is the reason we see the forces of business, Tories, all right wing economists and so forth lobbying do hard for austerity and the continuation of misery. 

  13. Anne Gill permalink
    June 5, 2012 4:21 am

    Studyblog has got it right as has payguy with the additional element of the deliberate connivance of Murdoch et al to turn the working class against each other with deliberate divide and rule tactics particularly turning the public and private sector against each other as well as the classics of race and class, but interestingly they are not quite getting it all their own way, the fall of Murdoch is an unplanned element and the public are not all falling for it as evidenced by the opinion polls. I guess we are in for interesting times as in the old chinese curse.

  14. June 5, 2012 6:32 pm

    Reblogged this on philatea and commented:
    A thought provoking blog, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for doubt…

  15. June 5, 2012 6:52 pm

    You missed the best bit when, immediately after appointing Judge Hunt, David Cameron’s number two texted ACME to say: “I hope you like our solution”.

    Why hasn’t George Osborne been asked to explain this message? Why was he interested in whether or not ACME liked who he put in place to judge them? Why was he so keen to please them?

  16. June 6, 2012 7:48 am

    He bleats that he has “compartments” in his mind which, the moment he was appointed, isolated his personal views. So why did he continue calling, emailing, texting BSkyB dozens of times a week throughout the process, the rational observer may ask? “I wanted to be courteous”_________________________

    “calling, emailing and texting” just a few times takes up an inordinate amount of time, so to do this dozens of times a day over many weeks is not being courteous, it was concentrating on getting that takeover through come what may and Hunt never for one moment envisaged that his calls, texts and emails would be made public and that is why he did it.

    Cameron first evaded admitting that he had spoken to James Murdoch about the BSkyB bid at Brooks cosy Christmas dinner, that alone should tell people exactly what they need to know about Cameron.

    I don’t really care how many words Cameron spoke to James Murdoch about the bid, whether it was a hundred or thousands, it is the very fact that he *did* speak to Murdoch about it that is wrong. Besides (1) we only have the word of Cameron who is now a proven habitual liar that it was a few and (2) we only have his word what the content of the conversation was.

    Not only should Cameron have immediately said “James I cannot talk to you about this, I’m ending this conversation” but he should NEVER have been at that party with James Murdoch in the first place. Once again we see either arrogant disregard for judicial and parliamentary process or extreme stupidity and a serial lack of judgement – personally, i think it is all three!

  17. Rob McD permalink
    June 6, 2012 8:23 am

    There we have it in a nut shell, no change at the top. Words are cheap Mr Cameron. Very cheap when you’re a Tory looking to get elected.

    They will pay a heavy price come the next election (I hope). They act as if you won a land side victory at the last election. Do the sums stupid. You didn’t win last time, and your disliked 10 times more now, given your “look after my rich and posh mates first” policies.

    It makes me sick, I actually voted for this conniving little Jekyll and Hyde and his bunch of self serving sycophants. Never again, never again. Well done Alex, another sublime piece of work. keep it up.


  1. Cameron and Hunt – a tale of misjudgment #leveson | Love and Garbage – some commonplace musings

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