Gerald Warner: Hydra-headed Leveson Inquiry puts Coalition in the dock
THE Leveson Inquiry is a strange – and dangerous – beast. Mostly it ambles through the undergrowth, apparently posing no threat to anyone; then, suddenly, it claims another victim before retreating once more into obscurity.
For the most part the public has little interest in its doings, dismissing them as an obsession of the media village. Yet this inquiry is becoming a serious threat to the Entitled who lord it over various social milieux.
There is a natural love-hate relationship between the media and politicians: they live in a state of mutual dependence despite the fact that one is the natural prey of the other.
Now, unusually, both are facing a common threat: the Leveson tribunal. It is a triple-headed hydra, having a multiple remit to investigate the relationship of the press with the public, the police and politicians. Last week a suavely insinuating QC demolished the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt. The clever money is on the backwash from this inquiry taking out more of the great and good by the time it strikes camp.
What emerged above all from last week’s grilling of Hunt was the sheer immaturity of the Coalition government and the schoolboy amateurishness with which it attempts to govern the country. When Vince Cable, his male plumage swelling, boasted to a couple of professionally admiring hackettes that he was “waging a war” on Rupert Murdoch (“Ooh, you big strong man, tell us more!”), he was deemed too parti pris to act as referee of the BSkyB deal. So, in a dramatic reversal of bias, he was replaced by Jeremy Hunt who had sent a text to James Murdoch, after the European Commission had cleared the bid, saying “Congrats on Brussels, just Ofcom to go!” on the very day Cable’s indiscretion was exposed.
When the culture secretary announced on 3 March, 2011 that he was “minded” to approve the bid, James Murdoch sent him a text saying “Big few days. Well played. JRM”, to which Hunt replied two minutes later: “Thanks think we got the right solution!” What kind of relationship is that for a cabinet minister to entertain with a media mogul whose empire is mired in controversy, when the minister is supposed to be exercising a quasi-judicial role? It transpired at Leveson that Hunt did not even understand what a quasi-judicial decision required of him. Did his officials not inform him? They certainly tried to, but the minister’s preference for private communications persisted.
Yet he was so appalled by his special adviser’s parallel correspondence with Frédéric Michel, a News Corporation lobbyist, that he regarded his resignation as unavoidable. Hunt’s own resignation was averted – or deferred – by an announcement from Downing Street within minutes of the end of his evidence to Leveson that David Cameron did not intend to refer his conduct to an independent arbitrator to establish whether he had infringed the ministerial code. This was classic Cameron: clearly, when he is ejected from Number 10, management of a whelk stall will not be an option for Dave.
This government is becoming surreal. The Liberal Democrats were allegedly furious that the Tories executed their third Budget U-turn in four days – on charitable donations – while Hunt was giving evidence, in an attempt to bury bad news. Think about that. One component of the Government is angry that the senior partner attempted by media management to distract attention from the Coalition’s latest humiliation because it deprived the Lib Dems of the opportunity to claim credit for derailing part of the Budget. Yet the Lib Dems are supposed to be partners in the government. Government? It looks more like a sackful of fighting stoats.
Cameron has no idea how to cauterise a political wound. Harold Macmillan would have sacked Hunt at the same time as his special adviser departed. Dave’s problem is that, although Prime Minister, he is not the leader of the Conservative Party, only of an alien clique of “modernisers” that has colonised it like a plague bacillus. The clique must be preserved at all costs.
That is why Francis Maude’s jerry-can still sits on the Cabinet table; why the serially incompetent Theresa May continues in the most sensitive portfolio, like a ticking time-bomb; why Mad Oliver still stalks the corridors of power; why Lib Dem fatuities anent the House of Lords and same-sex marriage are permitted to alienate increasing numbers of Tory voters, as the local elections demonstrated.
There will never be a Cameron-led majority Tory government: too many supporters have defected, the arithmetic and the magnetic attraction of UKIP are inexorable. Nor will there be another Cameron coalition; if enough of them survive, the Lib Dems will coalesce with Labour next time. The incompetence exposed by Leveson is another nail in the coffin of modernised Toryism.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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