"Shared objectives", "illegal" briefings, and . . . Take That

What today's emails tell us about Jeremy Hunt and his relationship with News Corp.

After an explosive day, the Leveson Inquiry has published the email correspondence of News Corps’ top lobbyist, Frederic Michel, and it is not looking good for the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. (You can read all 163 pages of it here).

First and foremost is the email dated 24th January 2011, quoted in today’s proceedings, in which Michel gets early warning about an announcement to be made by Hunt. Michel forwards it to James Murdoch saying:

Managed to get some infos on the plans for tomorrow (although absolutely illegal)

In the hearing, Murdoch defended this saying that the use of a winky face indicated that this was a joke.

Equally – if not more – damning, is an email sent the day before, in which Michel says that Hunt has stated that “he shared our objectives”:

He understands fully our concerns regarding the publication of the report and the consultation of Ofcom in the process; but he wants us to take the heat, with him, in the next 2 weeks.

He very specifically said that he was keen to get to the same outcome and wanted JRM to understand he needs to build build some political cover on the process.

If he were to follow our Option 1 and not provide any details on the Ofcom report, he would be accused of putting a deal together with ns behind closed doors and it would get in a much more difficult place. The more this gets out now, the better it will be as the opposition will lose arguments. This week’s events do not give him much choice.

He said we would get there at the end and he shared our objectives.

Finally, he asked us to stick with him in the coming weeks, plan the upcoming Tuesday’s publication and the debate which will unfold.

On a lighter note, an email sent to Hunt’s adviser Adam Smith on 7th June 2011 has raised some eyebrows. In it, Michel complains that his attempts to meet Ed Vaizey have been unsuccessful:

I tend to think that he could see us on specific policy items. We’re still involved in the media agenda even during the Sky deal.
It’s a very punitive decision ... I feel victimised :)

For example, I am working on our response for the open letter and it would have been great to discuss it with you before finalising it at some stage before end of June. Possible?

By the way, does that mean you and Jeremy will not be coming to Take That on the 4th July?

At the moment it looks like Hunt didn’t go to see the boyband’s reunion tour with News Corps. It is just as well really, as the scheduled date, 4th July, is when the Milly Dowler story broke. How is that for irony?
 

Take That performing in February 2011. Photograph: Getty Images

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

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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