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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Zac Goldsmith has bitten off more than he can chew

In standing as an independent, Goldsmith may face the worst of both worlds. 

After just 48 years, we can announce the very late arrival of the third runway at Heathrow. Assuming, that is, that it makes its way past the legal challenge from five local councils and Greenpeace, the consultation with local residents, and the financial worries of the big airlines. And that's not counting the political struggles...

While the Times leads with the logistical headaches - "Heathrow runway may be built over motorway" is their splash, the political hurdles dominate most of this morning’s papers

"Tory rebels let fly on Heathrow" says the i's frontpage, while the FT goes for "Prominent Tories lead challenge to May on Heathrow expansion". Although Justine Greening, a May loyalist to her fingertips, has limited herself to a critical blogpost, Boris Johnson has said the project is "undeliverable" and will lead to London becoming "a city of planes". 

But May’s real headache is Zac Goldsmith, who has quit, triggering a by-election in his seat of Richmond Park, in which he will stand as an anti-Heathrow candidate.  "Heathrow forces May into Brexit by-election" is the Telegraph's splash. 

CCHQ has decided to duck out of the contest entirely, leaving Goldsmith running as the Conservative candidate in all but name, against the Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney. 

What are Goldsmith's chances? To win the seat, the Liberal Democrats would need a 19.3 per cent swing from the Conservatives - and in Witney, they got exactly that.

They will also find it easier to squeeze the third-placed Labour vote than they did in Witney, where they started the race in fourth place. They will find that task all the easier if the calls for Labour to stand aside are heeded by the party leadership. In any case, that Clive Lewis, Lisa Nandy and Jonathan Reynolds have all declared that they should will be a boost for Olney even if she does face a Labour candidate.  

The Liberal Democrats are fond of leaflets warning that their rivals “cannot win here” and thanks to Witney they have one ready made.  

Goldsmith risks having the worst of all worlds. I'm waiting to hear whether or not the Conservatives will make their resources freely available to Goldsmith, but it is hard to see how, without taking an axe to data protection laws, he can make use of Conservative VoterID or information gathered in his doomed mayoral campaign. 

But in any case, the Liberal Democrats will still be able to paint him as the Brexit candidate and the preferred choice of the pro-Heathrow Prime Minister, as he is. I think Goldsmith will find he has bitten more than he can chew this time.

This article originally appeared in today's Morning Call, your essential email covering everything you need to know about British politics and today's news. You can subscribe for free here.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.