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.