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.