Hunt's troubles return

New email claims Hunt asked News Corp lobbyist to guide his "positioning".

It looks as if Rebekah Brooks's Leveson testimony could prove more far damaging to Jeremy Hunt than to David Cameron. A newly disclosed email (see below) from News Corp lobbyist  Frédéric Michel to Brooks alleges that Hunt asked Michel to "advise him privately (on the BSkyB bid) in the coming weeks and guide his and No 10's positioning…"

If true, it is the strongest evidence yet that Hunt sought to aid News Corp's bid for full control of BSkyB in violation of his duty to act in a "quasi-judicial" role. No. 10 will likely reply that we are still only hearing one side of the story (the email is not from Hunt) and that we should wait until Hunt's appearance at the end of the month to establish the full facts. But the Culture Secretary's future is looking even less certain after today.

Fred Michel to Rebekah Brooks:
27 June 2011 16:29

Hunt will be making references to phone hacking in his statement on Rubicon this week.

He will be repeating the same narrative as the one he gave in Parliament few weeks ago.

This is based on his belief that the police is pursing things thoroughly and phone hacking has nothing to do with the media plurality issues.

It's extremely helpful.

On the issue of the privacy committee he supports a widening of its remit to the future of the press and evidence from all newspaper groups on the regulatory regime.

He wants to prevent a public inquiry. For this the committee will need to come up a strong report in the autumn and put enough pressure on the PCC to strength itself and take recommendations forward.

JH is now starting to looking to phone hacking/practices more thoroughly and has asked me to advise him privately in the coming weeks and guide his and No 10's positioning…

Fred

Brooks to Michel:
Jun 27 2011 17:30

When is the Rubicon statement?

Michel to Brooks:

Probably Weds

 

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt allegedly asked News Corp lobbyist Frédéric Michel to guide "his positioning". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.