Two text message exchanges stand out from this morning’s Leveson testimony by Jeremy Hunt, both sent on the day we found out that Vince Cable had told undercover reporters he had “declared war on Murdoch”.
The first was one sent by the culture secretary to James Murdoch. Referring to the European Commission’s decision to let the News Corp’s bid for BSkyB proceed, Hunt texted Murdoch:
Congrats on Brussels. Only Ofcom to go.
This sounds very much like Hunt actively supporting the bid and undermines his claim that he was only “broadly sympathetic”. Hunt clearly realised how damaging this looks, and admitted to Robert Jay, the QC questioning him, that he would not have sent it after he knew he had been appointed to make the “quasi-judicial” decision on whether to let it proceed in the UK.
The second exchange was between Hunt and George Osborne. Soon after Hunt found out about Vince Cable’s comments, he spoke to James Murdoch. Almost as soon as he had put down the phone to Murdoch, Hunt texted Osborne to say:
Cld we chat about Murdoch Sky bid? Am seriously worried we are going to screw this up.
Osborne texted back saying:
I hope you like the solution!
That was Hunt’s first confirmation that he had been put in charge of deciding the bid instead of Cable. But what was he worried about? It sounds like he was worried the bid might not go through – although he may say he was worried that it might look like the government had not made a fair and impartial decision.
Either way, why would Osborne think Hunt would have liked the solution? Why would Hunt have wanted to have been put in charge of deciding the bid? It should have been a fairly bureaucratic procedure, with no chance to impose his own will. What would Hunt have like about that?
Again the assumption will be that Osborne thought Hunt would have liked the solution because he wanted to help the bid go through. Whatever the case, it looks increasingly like Osborne will also have to testify to Leveson.
One other note: Hunt has said he worked very closely with Adam Smith, his adviser who resigned for getting too close to News Corp. He also admitted he didn’t give Smith any express instructions on how much contact to have. This could end up being Hunt’s undoing: he didn’t give enough guidance to a person who then acted so badly he had to resign.