Saturday 24 February 2018

Hunted? Yes -- but minister escaped the pack

Rosa Silverman

IF Jeremy Hunt is comfortable in the spotlight he hides it well. Part deer-in-the-headlights, part chided schoolboy, his Leveson Inquiry performance was hardly assured.

Bolt upright, blinking and swallowing frequently, the British culture secretary seemed to have few illusions about what was at stake.

Yet he managed to dodge any major blows in his spar with the inquiry's counsel, Robert Jay. Self-confident he was not, but he did not give ground easily.

Mr Hunt had dealt with the BSkyB bid in an "even-handed, open-minded" manner, he said. He made the decision "objectively and impartially", with no bias.

He even did some things James Murdoch was annoyed about. The Murdochs and News Corp were depicted as a formidable machine that all but steamrollered their way to getting what they wanted.

Except, of course, that in the end they did not get it, as the phone-hacking tidal wave engulfed all in its path.

It was Them, not Us, who seemed to be to blame for the whole furore that had brought Mr Hunt into courtroom 73.

News Corp lobbyist Frederic Michel had bombarded Mr Hunt's ill-fated special adviser Adam Smith with messages.

And poor Mr Smith was the hapless casualty, the "buffer" who had to be sacrificed.

It seemed "terribly unfair" and his resignation was accepted with "heavy hearts" but the adviser had been pushed -- by the barrage of News Corp's communications, apparently -- into using inappropriate language suggesting that he shared their objectives.

Mr Hunt admitted he had considered his position but decided he had conducted the bid scrupulously fairly, so he need not resign.

Five o'clock came and the schoolboy was dismissed. He walked stiffly from the courtroom. But his defences had held up and those baying for blood were not satisfied.

Irish Independent

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