Jeremy Hunt’s line of defence against calls from Ed Miliband for his resignation go like this: he acted properly at all times, and Frederic Michel (director of public affairs at NewsCorp) exaggerated his contact with the culture secretary.
It is true that in a document Michel explains to the inquiry that when he “spoke to JH” this was not exactly the case. Instead he was usually talking to Hunt’s special adviser, Adam Smith, or someone in the press office. Thus the Hunt defence that Michel has exaggerated.
But the content of the emails is explosive; as it outlines just how closely the company was talking to Hunt’s team at a time when the minister was supposed to be maintaining a “quasi-judicial” role in overseeing the bid for BSkyB.
Here is a link to the stache of all Michel’s messages. These seem the four most damaging emails:
1] January 24, 2011.
“Managed to get some infos on the plans for tomorrow (although absolutely illegal..!)
“JH will announce that ‘he is minded that maybe the case that a merger may operate against the public interest and it’s in his own right that he wishes to look at any undertaking that have the potential to prevent the potential threats of the media plurality identified in the Ofcom report’.”
2] 23rd February, 2011
“Just debriefed JH. He is not impressed. He is going to speak to Jon Zeff and see both why Ofcom is intruding in the process in that way and how OFT can be influenced by it at this stage.”
3] 23rd January, 2011
“He very specifically said that he was keen to get to the same outcome and wanted JRM to understand he needs to build some political cover on the process….he said he would get there at the end and he shared our objectives.”
4] 10th January, 2011. Subject: “Re: Spoke to Hunt”
“He made again a plea to try to find as many legal errors as we can in the Ofcom report and propose some strong and ‘impactful’ remedies.”
The impact of these emails is that Jeremy Hunt is now in the firing line, with his career hanging in the balance. James Murdoch, conversely, has dodged negative coverage today.
And what of David Cameron himself? News that he did discuss the bid with Murdoch during a Christmas dinner at Rebekah Brooks’s Cotswolds home is very bad for his reputation. Not least because the very existence of the meal did not emerge for months despite repeated questioning of Downing St: Chris Hope at the Telegraph has the best account of this stonewalling and evasion.