Hunt's acute bias is exposed again

But the Culture Secretary is still safe for now.

Jeremy Hunt's appearance before the Leveson inquiry has not failed to live up to expectations. The most dramatic moment came when it was revealed that the Culture Secretary had texted James Murdoch to congratulate him on winning EU approval for the BSkyB takeover. He wrote: "Great and congrats on Brussels. Just Ofcom to go!"

Significantly, the text was sent on 21 December, the day Vince Cable lost responsibility for the bid after it was revealed that he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch. Hunt's defence is that the text simply reaffirmed his publicly-stated support for the bid (amusingly, he claimed that he was merely "broadly sympathetic") and that it was sent before he formally acquired responsibility for the deal  (just an hour later). Had he already been given quasi-judicial authority, he suggested, he would not "have sent that text". Unlike Vince Cable, Hunt's defenders will say, he did not demonstrate bias once in post.

This defence should be enough for Hunt to retain Downing Street's support. Unless any "new evidence" (to use Cameron's phrase) emerges that Hunt may have broken the ministerial code, he will survive, leaving him with the option to leave the cabinet (or accept another post) at a later date.

Update: As Stefan Stern points out on Twitter, it will now be even harder for Cameron to defend his decision to hand responsibility for the bid to Hunt. Yet again, the Prime Minister is guilty of terrible judgement.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives at The Royal Courts of Justice to give evidence to the Leveson inquiry. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.