Will Osborne now appear before the Leveson inquiry?

Chancellor likely to be summoned this month.

In total, seven government ministers will appear before the Leveson inquiry. Vince Cable, Ken Clarke, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and Theresa May have already done so, with David Cameron and Nick Clegg set to follow them later this month. Yet, absurdly, George Osborne, the man who recruited Andy Coulson, who met Murdoch executives 16 times following the general election and who, in the words of Rebekah Brooks, expressed "total bafflement" at Ofcom's response to the BSkyB bid, is currently not scheduled to appear. The Chancellor will merely be required to submit a witness statement.

One of the questions following Jeremy Hunt's appearance is whether this will now change. The texts exchanged between him and Osborne suggest that the Chancellor, as David Cameron's chief strategist (Osborne's dual role goes some way to explaining his botched Budget), played a decisive role in the handling of the BSkyB bid. It was to Osborne, who some might have imagined to be preoccupied with the task of running the British economy, that Hunt addressed his fear that "we are going to screw this up". He later added: "Just been called by James M. His lawyers are meeting now and saying it calls into question legitimacy of whole process from beginning 'acute bias' etc". To which Osborne infamously replied: "I hope you like the solution!" The solution being to hand Hunt, a cheerleader for the Murdochs (the most egregious example being the congratulatory text to James Murdoch, in which he declared: "Only Ofcom to go!"), ministerial responsibility for the BSkyB bid. The exchanges between Murdoch and Hunt, and Hunt and Osborne, raise the possibility that Murdoch and Osborne communicated on 21 December, perhaps minutes before Osborne's text to Hunt.

Fortunately, it now seems likely that the Chancellor will be forced to appear in person and that his own texts and emails with News Corp will be published. Today's Daily Mail reports that the Osborne "will be summoned alongside David Cameron, who is expected to give evidence on June 14." If so, his appearance could provide some of the most damaging revelations yet.

 

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne exchanged texts with Jeremy Hunt on the BSkyB bid. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era