Jeremy Hunt to be investigated over donations

Culture Secretary accused of failing to declare donations from media companies while in opposition.

It has not been a good month for Jeremy Hunt. The Culture Secretary managed to hang onto his job despite revelations about the cosy relationship between his office and News Corporation during the company’s attempted takeover of BSkyB. However, it was announced today that he will be investigated by the parliamentary standards commissioner over claims that he failed to register donations from media companies while in opposition.

The inquiry is being launched in response to a complaint earlier this month from Labour MP Stephen McCabe. He raised concerns about a series of “networking events” involving eight media organisations, attended by Hunt and culture minister Ed Vaizey.

The BBC summarises the query:

Mr Vaizey stated in his entry in the register of interests that he and Mr Hunt attended had attended eight sponsored events between July 2009 and March 2010.

Mr Vaizey registered the events as donations worth £27,000. These are not cash donations, but estimates from Mr Vaizey of the cost to the companies concerned of hosting the events.

However, Mr Hunt did not declare the meetings against his name in the register. He has subsequently claimed that he attended only three of the eight meetings.

His spokeswoman said he had amended his register entry since the complaint was raised and the discrepancy had arisen because of "miscommunication".

The office of the parliamentary standards commissioner, John Lyons, confirmed that an inquiry would be launched but declined to comment further. Hunt’s office also declined to comment.

Labour has already called for Hunt to resign over the News Corp revelations. His special adviser, Adam Smith, fell on his sword after emails were published showing his close relationship with a News Corp official during the bid. Hunt has maintained that he acted correctly and in a quasi-judicial manner.

In and of itself, the accusation that Hunt failed to declare the donations might not sound that monumental, particularly coming after the News Corp emails. What it shows is that Labour are not relinquishing the political pressure on Hunt. They know that if he goes, it will shift the pressure higher up the political chain.
 

Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary. Photograph: Getty Images

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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How a small tax rise exposed the SNP's anti-austerity talk for just that

The SNP refuse to use their extra powers to lessen austerity, says Kezia Dugdale.

"We will demand an alternative to slash and burn austerity."

With those few words, Nicola Sturgeon sought to reassure the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year that the SNP were a party opposed to public spending cuts. We all remember the general election TV debates, where the First Minister built her celebrity as the leader of the anti-austerity cause.

Last week, though, she was found out. When faced with the choice between using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in the future or imposing cuts to our schools, Nicola Sturgeon chose cuts. Incredible as it sounds the SNP stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories to vote for hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts to schools and other vital public services, rather than asking people to pay a little bit more to invest. That's not the choice of an anti-austerity pin-up. It's a sell-out.

People living outside of Scotland may not be fully aware of the significant shift that has taken place in politics north of the border in the last week. The days of grievance and blaming someone else for decisions made in Scotland appear to be coming to an end.

The SNP's budget is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. It will impose hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to local public services - including our schools. We don't know what cuts the SNP are planning for future years because they are only presenting a one year budget to get them through the election, but we know from the experts that the biggest cuts are likely to come in 2017/18 and 2018/19. For unprotected budgets like education that could mean cuts of 16 per cent.

It doesn't have to be this way, though. The Scottish Parliament has the power to stop these cuts, if only we have the political will to act. Last week I did just that.

I set out a plan, using the new powers we have today, to set a Scottish rate of income tax 1p higher than that set by George Osborne. This would raise an extra half a billion pounds, giving us the chance to stop the cuts to education and other services. Labour would protect education funding in real terms over the next five years in Scotland. Faced with the choice of asking people to pay a little bit more to invest or carrying on with the SNP's cuts, the choice was pretty simple for me - I won't support cuts to our nation’s future prosperity.

Being told by commentators across the political spectrum that my plan is bold should normally set alarm bells ringing. Bold is usually code for saying something unpopular. In reality, it's pretty simple - how can I say I am against cuts but refuse to use the powers we have to stop them?

Experts - including Professors David Bell and David Eiser of the University of Stirling; the Resolution Foundation; and IPPR Scotland - have said our plan is fair because the wealthiest few would pay the most. Trade unions have backed our proposal, because they recognise the damage hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts will do to our schools and the jobs it will cost.

Council leaders have said our plan to pay £100 cashback to low income taxpayers - including pensioners - to ensure they benefit from this plan is workable.

The silliest of all the SNP's objections is that they won't back our plan because the poorest shouldn't have to pay the price of Tory austerity. The idea that imposing hundreds of millions of pounds of spending cuts on our schools and public services won't make the poorest pay is risible. It's not just the poorest who will lose out from cuts to education. Every single family and business in Scotland would benefit from having a world class education system that gives our young the skills they need to make their way in the world.

The next time we hear Nicola Sturgeon talk up her anti-austerity credentials, people should remember how she did nothing when she had the chance to end austerity. Until now it may have been acceptable to say you are opposed to spending cuts but doing nothing to stop them. Those days are rapidly coming to a close. It makes for the most important, and most interesting, election we’ve had in Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale is leader of Scottish Labour.