Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Cameron cannot get away with this political sleight of hand on Hunt

Why is Jeremy Hunt not being investigated for breaching the ministerial code?

Let's just take a few steps back here and look at the chronology of events.

Firstly a mass of communications between Hunt's SpAd (Adam Smith) and News International were released into the public domain. From this it was abundantly clear that Smith had overstepped the mark in communicating privileged information to a commercial party with interests in the decision that his boss was going to have to make in a quasi-judicial role. Despite his initial protestations, Hunt eventually sacked Smith acknowledging that he had gone too far although denying any wrongdoing himself.

Then there were calls for Hunt to be sacked. Many, many people pointed out that the ministerial code makes a minister ultimately responsible for everything that their SpAds say and do. But Cameron declined even to refer Hunt to the ministerial code adviser for investigation claiming that Hunt should have his chance in from of the currently running Leveson inquiry.

Now, several weeks on, that has happened today. Hunt had his chance and despite it being a pretty ropey performance (where for example he seems to be admitting he didn't really understand what quasi-judicial actually meant until very recently) the PM clearly thinks he has done enough to hold onto his job as he has stated again that Hunt will not be referred for a ministerial inquiry.

The justification for this looking at the commentary in the media seems to be that there was no further "smoking gun" in the evidence today.

Let's just imagine that Leveson had not been running. When the Smith e-mails had broken, Smith would have been sacked but the political pressure would immediately have moved onto Hunt. With there being no way to dissipate this pressure Cameron would have had to refer him for a ministerial code inquiry I am certain of it. Instead he was able to deflect calls for that by effectively saying "Let him have his say at an inquiry that is already set up". Then the fact that it has taken several weeks, the media have had plenty of other things politically to get their teeth into (budget cock-ups, Euro crisis etc.) the pressure seeped away. Now that Hunt has "had his chance" the PM clearly thinks that he can get away with effectively saying "nothing new to see here, let's move on".

This is classic political sleight of hand. We already have the smoking gun. His special adviser was leaking privileged information to a potential bidder in a process worth billions of pounds. The ministerial code is clear about who has ultimate responsibility for SpAds.

Cameron should not be able to get away with using the time delay and Leveson as a smoke-screen to try and obfuscate the key issue here.

Leveson is a sideshow with respect to Hunt. He should be referred for a ministerial inquiry and given what we already know, I struggle to see how the ruling can be anything other than his position is untenable.


Anonymous said...

Wasn't it always obvious that this was going to happen?

In a sense the Lib Dems are the only ones who could do anything about this. But they won't.

farmland investment said...

It seems that however much he deserved to be referred, if Cameron didn't want him to be, then he would come up with a reason not to do it. That's politics, and that's why the mass of Britons detest politicians.