Hunt’s account of Adam Smith’s resignation is particularly interesting:
Jay: “Did you say to him at about 9.30 in the morning “‘everyone here thinks you need to go?’”
Hunt: “Yes, I wasn’t particularly including myself in that description of ‘everyone’”
Jay: “So if something had gone wrong…it theoretically fell within your responsibility didn’t it?”
Hunt: “I do have responsibility for what he does, I have repsonsibility for what everyone in my department does…”
That last admission seems especially pertinent.
Hunt says that he and Adam Smith were helping to develop policies in opposition:
“When I joined the Shadow Cabinet [Smith] became my chief of staff and he had a small team working for him and his primary responsibilities there would have been policy development for the manifesto office. Then when I moved into office he became my special advisor where his role changed again.”
But earlier, Hunt said that Smith was “politically fairly neutral“.
So which is it, Jeremy?
Hunt tells the inquiry:
“When I took responsibility for the bid I didn’t just set aside those views [in favour of the bid], but I had a much higher order job to do, which was to make sure our democracy was safe. It was a much more fundamental task.”
Which is all a bit reminiscent of Gordon Brown saving the world.
Hunt says that Adam Smith didn’t give in to Fred Michel’s lobbying. He says that although Smith may have used “inappropriate language” in response to Michel’s texts, he didn’t attempt to change Hunt’s mind over the issues he raised.
Which, if true, raises more questions of why Adam Smith had to resign.
Hunt describes a series of texts from Fred Michel following the announcement that Ofcom were to be introduced to the bid process, in which Michel suggests they meet up “when it’s all done” as “pushy” and “cheeky.”
This was just a couple of months after the text exchange in which they refer to each other as “daddy” – which the rest of the world described as “odd” and “creepy.”
Hunt’s response to Rebekah Brooks’ resignation from News International was to text his SPAD Adam Smith saying “About bloody time“. Apparently it was nothing personal, he just didn’t see how she could lead the investigation into phone hacking when she had been editor of the NOTW.
As we head for the lunch break, there’s been a lot of technical discussion of how Hunt defined and handled his quasi-judicial responsibilities. Some of the more interesting things to come up are the texts between Hunt and Osborne as Vince Cable’s “declaring war on Murdoch” comments came to light, and the text Hunt sent to James Murdoch congratulating him only hours before he took over responsibility.
The general consensus seems to be that Hunt’s evidence has been shaky, with suggestion that the charities tax U-turn was intended to distract media attention away from Leveson. But interestingly, Tory MP Louise Mensch seems to think precisely the opposite:
— Louise Mensch (@LouiseMensch) May 31, 2012
Meanwhile, in the reality-based community:
The ball is no longer beating the Hunt bat, it is thundering into his stumps
— Tim Shipman (Mail) (@ShippersUnbound) May 31, 2012
Can we have some of what Louise has been smoking?
On the same day he replaced Vince Cable overseeing the bid, Hunt texted James Murdoch: “Great and congrats on Brussels [competition ruling]. Just Ofcom to go.”
Asked: “Any communication between Mr Michel and Mr Smith would be no different would it to communication between Mr Michel and you, because Mr Smith was your agent.”
Hunt replied: “Not in this process. Sometimes SPADS have a role which is speaking for their boss, but in this situation Mr Smiths’ role was a different one. He was a point of contact in a very complex process. He was there to advise NewsCorp about questions they had about the process, and also to reassure them that the process was fair.”
Hunt on his Conservative Party special adviser Adam Smith: “I would have said he’s politically fairly neutral.”
Hunt: “Can we chat about Murdoch’s Sky Bid. I’m seriously worried we might screw this up. Just been called by James Murdoch, his lawyers are meeting now and saying it calls into question the legitimacy of the whole process from the beginning. Acute bias.”
Osborne: “I hope you like the solution”
Hunt tells Robert Jay QC that he was the “solution”.
This looks to be fatal. Jeremy Hunt discussed Vince Cable’s leaked “war on Murdoch” remarks with James Murdoch. Hours later he had Cable’s job. He also congratulates Murdoch by text that the bid has cleared European competition regulators, saying “Great”.
On the subject of his phone call with James Murdoch a few days before the infamous memo to Cameron, Hunt says off minutes meetings with stakeholders were “at [his] discretion” and that a phone call would be “appropriate.”
Mr Jay asked “If a meeting is inappropriate, why is a phone call appropriate?”
In reply, Hunt seems to suggst that any meeting or phone call would have been used to “set out the ground rules.”
Hunt says that he was advised not to interfere with the quasi-judicial process when Vince Cable had responsibility. So why did he send a memo to Cameron supporting the BSkyB bid?
Robert Jay asked Hunt to confirm Ian Martin’s story that Hunt had obscured himself in foliage to stop reporters spotting him going into a dinner also attended by Rupert and James Murdoch. Hunt says “There may or may not have been trees.”
Hunt says the only email account he has is his personal one. This is the way Michael Gove used to avoid disclosure of correspondence under FOI.
I hear that emails may be released today showing direct contact between Hunt and News Corp after he took responsibility for the BSKYB bid.
— Nick Robinson (@bbcnickrobinson) May 31, 2012