Jeremy Hunt

Kiran Stacey

Last week, Sir Merrick Cockell, the head of the Local Government Association, made some interesting comments about how the government provides public services. In an interview with the FT, he warned ministers not to assume that the private sector was necessarily best.

He said there had been a period when “public bad, private good” had “almost been a mantra”, accompanied by a belief that “the right way for local authorities to do things was to outsource everything”.

He added:

I hope we’ve moved beyond that, because there are very good cases for outsourcing. There are even stronger cases for testing a service properly to see whether it’s the right service to outsource, to see whether there’s a mature market out there that may be suitable to tender against it and then properly to reach a conclusion that there is, or there isn’t.

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Kiran Stacey

David Cameron and George OsbornePrime ministers aren’t supposed to engage in reshuffle speculation. Once they answer one question about a reshuffle, not only have they admitted it is going to happen, they invite a whole load of others.

But David Cameron seems to have been sufficiently spooked by recent speculation surrounding his chancellor that he felt moved to say the following to Sky’s Kay Burley:

KB: The economy will pick up, and George Osborne, his job will be safe?

DC: George Osborne is doing an excellent job in very difficult circumstances and he has my full support in going on and doing that job.

KB: And he’ll still be the chancellor at the next election?

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Kiran Stacey

Jeremy HuntJeremy Hunt has decided it is time for his political renaissance. Having endured a torrid few months over accusations he became too close to News Corp while judging whether the company’s bid for BSkyB should proceed, Hunt has now been touring around the TV studios talking about what a great success the Olympics are going to be.

But his interview for the House magazine, published today, gives the most striking sense yet of his renewed confidence. Asked whether it was still possible for him to become Tory leader, Hunt replied:

This is politics, isn’t it? From hero to zero… but definitely back again. You don’t know where politics is going to end up. I think it’s best not to have any grand plans, but I think you just have to come out of these things wiser and stronger.

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Kiran Stacey

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.

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Kiran Stacey

In the light of what we learned yesterday about Jeremy Hunt’s strong views that the News Corp bid for BSkyB should go ahead, it is interesting to read these guidelines from the Competition Commission on the standards to which their staff should be held.

The Competition Commission, was of course, one of the bodies that could have ended up examining the bid, just as Hunt was when he was asked to make a “quasi-judicial” judgement on whether it should go ahead.

The CC tells its staff (emphasis mine):

There may be instances where a CC member or staff member has or appears to have prejudged the outcome of an inquiry. Circumstances in which prejudgement might arise would include those in which an article had been written or speech made expressing strong views about a particular merger or market.

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Kiran Stacey

The highlight of this afternoon’s evidence by Adam Smith, the former adviser to Jeremy Hunt, was the publication of a memo sent by the culture secretary to the PM before he gained responsibility for the decision on whether to let it proceed.

Here is what Hunt wrote, with what we think of as the important bits in bold (h/t to the Guardian, which put this on its website):

James Murdoch is pretty furious at Vince’s referral to Ofcom. He doesn’t think he will get a fair hearing from Ofcom. I am privately concerned about this because News Corp are very litigious and we could end up in the wrong place in terms of media policy. Essentially what James Murdoch wants to do is to repeat what his father did with the move to Wapping and create the world’s first multiplatform media operator available from paper to web to TV to iPhone to iPad. Isn’t this what all media companies have to do ultimately? And if so we must be very careful that any attempt to block it is done on plurality grounds and not as a result of lobbying by competitors.

The UK has the chance to lead the way on this as we did in the 80s with the Wapping move but if we block it our media sector will suffer for years. In the end I am sure sensible controls can be put into any merger to ensure there is plurality but I think it would be totally wrong to cave into the Mark Thompson/Channel 4/Guardian line that this represents a substantial change of control given that we all know Sky is controlled by News Corp now anyway.

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Esther Bintliff

A combination of still images from broadcast footage shows News Corporation Chief Executive and Chairman, Rupert Murdoch, speaking at the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the media, at the High Court in London April 25, 2012. REUTERS/POOL via Reuters TV

REUTERS/POOL via Reuters TV

Welcome to our live coverage of the Leveson Inquiry into the standards and ethics of the UK press, on the second day when Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp, gave evidence.

By Esther Bintliff, Salamander Davoudi and Tim Bradshaw in London, with contributions from FT correspondents. All times London time.

NB: We refer to Rupert Murdoch as Rupert throughout for speed and to avoid confusion with his son James. Jay is Robert Jay QC, who is questioning Rupert.

16.45 What were the most interesting things that Rupert said today? Here’s a selection of three key moments. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

  • “The News of the World, quite honestly, was an aberration, and it’s my fault”. Rupert said this in the context of defending his other newspapers and their integrity, thus characterising the NOTW as a sort of rogue newspaper – just as he once relied on the “rogue reporter” argument. However, it’s also noticeable that he appeared to take responsibility – “it’s my fault”. He would later say he was “sorry he didn’t close [the NOTW] years before”.
  • “I think the senior executives were all informed, and I — were all misinformed and shielded from anything that was going on there, and I do blame one or two people for that, who perhaps I shouldn’t name, because for all I know they may be arrested yet, but there’s no question in my mind that maybe even the editor, but certainly beyond that someone took charge of a cover-up, which we were victim to…” This is where Rupert effectively accuses “one or two” people at the News of the World of organising a cover-up of the extent of phonehacking at the newspaper.
  • “It’s a common thing in life, way beyond journalism, for people to say, ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch my back’”. It was as if Rupert momentarily let the veil fall when he made this offhand comment, giving a sense into what his critics might say is ‘the real Rupert’. Robert Jay QC was quick to jump on the remark, saying: “You said it was a common thing in life… and that’s true, that’s human nature, but it’s interesting that you say that’s no part of the implied deal in your relations with politicians over 30 years, Mr Murdoch. Is that right?” Rupert saw the trap and took evasive action: “I don’t ask any politician to scratch my back… That’s a nice twist, but no, I’m not falling for it.”

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AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Welcome to our live coverage of the Leveson Inquiry into the standards and ethics of the UK press, on the day when Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp, is giving evidence.

By Esther Bintliff and Salamander Davoudi in London, with contributions from FT correspondents. All times London time.

NB: We refer to Rupert Murdoch as Rupert throughout for speed and to avoid confusion with his son James. Jay is Robert Jay QC, who is questioning Rupert.

16.40 We’re going to close the blog for now, but as ever we’ll have more news and analysis for you on FT.com.

And we’ll leave you with the latest development: officials at the FSA are interested in the News Corp emails that were published yesterday, and in particular an email sent by Fred Michel, News Corp’s director of public affairs, in which he described obtaining “absolutely illegal” information from Adam Smith, an adviser to Jeremy Hunt. Read the full story here.

16.15 So, today’s session was shorter than expected, and Rupert’s evidence did not really yield any explosive revelations of the level that James did yesterday. But it’s important to remember that in his questioning of Rupert, Robert Jay QC was largely focused on the decades in the run-up to the two most controversial issues for News Corp (i.e. the phonehacking scandal and the bid for BSkyB) rather than addressing those issues directly – he will presumably concentrate on phonehacking and BSkyB tomorrow.

Thus Jay spent a lot of time asking Rupert about key moments for the business during the 1980s and 1990s; his relationship with different political leaders; and his varying levels of editorial influence over the newspapers.

One could imagine that Jay’s strategy here was to lay the ground – very thoroughly – to then better understand Rupert’s/News Corp’s approach to the more recent issues, and to show whether there was any historical precedent for the behaviour that the company engaged in as it tried to get regulatory approval for its bid for the remaining shares in BSkyB.  Read more

Kiran Stacey

Westminster is in tumult. In the last hour, allegations of phone hacking, corruption and other journalistic misdeeds at News International have developed significantly.

Here is the latest:

Jim Pickard

News just in from the culture department where many of its 55 public bodies are to be abolished, merged or streamlined.

The most eye-catching is the abolition of the UK Film Council, which invests government grants and Lottery money in film development. (Although Jeremy Hunt, culture secretary, insists that ‘government and Lottery support for film will continue’).

The body has helped to fund 900 films since it was set up in 2000, although it’s not exactly clear from its website which ones they were. (The BBC tells us that they include Bend it Like Beckham and the Last King of Scotland – pictured).

Also to be abolished is the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. Ditto the Advisory Council on Libraries and the Legal Deposit Advisory Panel. And the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites. Read more