Alex Massie

Groundhog Day at Leveson: Dog Still Bites Man

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One thing to be kept in mind as we consider the extent of the government's links to News International is that it helps explain why neither the Telegraph nor Mail groups are wholly in favour of David Cameron and his ministry. It is, I think, fairly clear that the Conservative leadership was happy to accede to Rupert Murdoch's attempts to purchase the shares in BSkyB that he did not already own.

Following today's revelations at the Leveson Inquiry, Jeremy Hunt's jacket now rests upon a super-shoogly peg. Several bookmakers have ceased taking bets on the Culture Secretary being the next minister to leave the cabinet. Even allowing for politicians' willingness to tell their audience what they wish to hear, Hunt appears, on the basis of the evidence given today, to have had a rather closer relationship with News Corp than might, all things being taken into account, be considered ideal in the present circumstances. As Pete suggests, shares in Prime Minister Hunt are going cheap today. He's on his own now.

Not that Hunt was the only politician embarrassed today. Alex Salmond's chummy relationship with the Murdochs cropped up again. According to News Corp, the Frist Minister was happy to make representations to Hunt backing Murdoch's bid for BSkyB. James Murdoch suggested it was silly to suppose there could be any connection between Mr Salmond's views on this matter and the Scottish Sun's views on Alex Salmond. Nevertheless, one cannot escape the coincidence that the Sun decided to back the SNP as this other matter was rumgling around the government mixer. And, of course, Mr Salmond wrote an article for the debut edition of the Sun on Sunday.

We may expect Labour and the other opposition parties to make as much of this as they can. It does, however, seem perverse that it is fine and dandy for politicians to lobby the government if they opposed the BSkyB bid but reprehensible for other politicians to suggest they were comfortable with or even, heaven forbid, in favour of, the proposed takeover.

Ah, you say, opposing Murdoch is a necessary and noble business and only toadies and lackeys and the payroll vote could possibly support any part of his business ventures. That plenty of people certainly seem to take this view does not make it correct. I suspect it's a little more complicated than that and that many of those most hostile to Murdoch are not, perhaps, quite as pure of motive as they might wish us to believe.

As for Mr Salmond, well I'm afraid it is not shocking that he was interested in how he was covered by the Scottish Sun. Of course the SNP courted the Sun seeing it as a counterweight to the stanchly-Labour Daily Record. Are we supposed to be outraged that a politician asks a newspaper proprietor to support him? If so then, gosh, we're awfy innocent these days.  Nor, I'm afraid, do I think the likely existence of some communication between Salmond's people and Hunt's people terribly splutter-worthy. 

That said, it might have been wise for Mr Salmond's office to have released these emails - assuming they have them - last summer. As far as journalists are concerned this will be a test of the First Minister's teflon armour but he will, I suspect, counter-attack by observing that his relationship with the Murdochs was scarcely any chummier than that desired or even enjoyed by the Labour and Conservative parties. We're all at it may not be much of a defence but it has the dubious merit of being true.

Not that this will comfort poor Mr Hunt. He appears to be, as they say, toast.