NO killer blow. No smoking e-mail. Indeed, Jeremy Hunt came up with a very British, if disingenuous, excuse yesterday for his regular contacts with News Corp: he was simply too polite just to ignore them.
With Downing Street confirming that it will not be bringing in its adviser on ministerial conduct to weigh the evidence against Mr Hunt, the Culture Secretary could breathe a little more easily last night. But – as Mr Hunt himself accepted towards the end of his evidence yesterday – it will be near impossible to persuade everyone that a minister who had previously expressed such “sympathy” for the BSkyB News Corp takeover could then, in Robert Jay QC’s phrase, erect “Chinese walls in his mind” by handling a process like this in an objective manner.
For all those who think Mr Hunt was scrupulous in bringing in Ofcom and the OFT to examine the bid, there will be those noting that this was just an elaborate ruse designed to provide him with political cover, and taken in the knowledge that it would get the thumbs up anyway.
Mr Hunt may have dealt well with the questions, but the marathon session only invited new ones about why he was given the job in the first place.
On 20 December 2010, as it emerged Vince Cable had been recorded declaring “war” on the Murdochs, it was Mr Hunt who e-mailed and texted Numbers 10 and 11 with warnings the bid was being “screwed up”. A few hours later, Mr Hunt was then handed the job himself. “I hope you like our solution”, texted George Osborne. The session had also exposed just how keen Mr Hunt had been on pushing the takeover case, taking phone calls from James Murdoch on the case for the takeover against the advice of officials, and warning colleagues in Cabinet that thousands of jobs were at stake if it did not go ahead.
So was the pro-takeover Mr Hunt put in the job as a way of placating the News Corp empire, as it raged about Dr Cable’s bias? Or, as Mr Jay put it, was it not the case that the government replaced one form of bias in Dr Cable for an equal, but opposite form, in Mr Hunt? No, insisted Mr Hunt. It may be that the inquiry will now want to call Mr Osborne to put the questions to him as well.