"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.

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Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He was shortlisted as a Labour mayoral candidate in the 2016 London election, and stood as Labour's candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016.