Labour leader says latest Leveson evidence shows culture secretary should not have had responsibility for BSkyB takeover
David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt face “huge” questions over their handling of News Corporation’s BSkyB takeover in the wake of the latest evidence to the Leveson inquiry, Ed Miliband has said.
The Labour leader said this week’s disclosures provided “yet more” evidence that Hunt, the culture secretary, should not have been given responsibility for the deal.
He cited in particular the publication of a memo in which Hunt made private representations to Cameron supporting News Corp’s bid to take full control of BSkyB.
The document, sent just weeks before Hunt was given quasi-judicial oversight of the bid, expressed concerns that referring the bid to Ofcom could leave the government “on the wrong side of media policy”.
Miliband, speaking in Afghanistan where he has been visiting British troops and holding talks with the president, Hamid Karzai, said: “From what I have seen from the material I have read on this, I think we have got yet more evidence that Jeremy Hunt wasn’t the right person to be taking forward the decision about the BSkyB bid.
“He wrote a memo to the prime minister for the bid four weeks or so before taking charge of it and I think it really calls into question David Cameron’s judgment about why he appointed him in the first place to take over this bid.
“Here is somebody who was an advocate within government for the bid, so there are huge questions for David Cameron to answer.
“And there are yet more questions for Jeremy Hunt to answer. I mean, why did he tell the House of Commons that he wasn’t intervening in this issue when he wasn’t responsible for it when, in fact, he was?
“There are just a whole series of mounting questions and we do need answers.”
Hunt is also facing embarrassment over disclosures about his personal dealings with the News Corp lobbyist Frédéric Michel, whom he addressed as “daddy” and “mon ami” in dozens of jokey text messages.
In exchanges released at the inquiry on Friday, Michel responded with flattering comments about the culture secretary’s “stamina” and “great” performances in TV interviews and the Commons.
Hunt also assured Michel, then European director of public affairs for Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, there was “nothing u won’t like” in an upcoming speech.
At least 67 texts were sent between the two men from 21 June 2010 until 3 July 2011, the period when News Corp was seeking to take over the satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
On Friday Cameron defended giving Hunt responsibility for the decision on News Corp’s takeover bid.
“I don’t regret giving the job to Jeremy Hunt. It was the right thing to do in the circumstances, which were not of my making,” he said.
Hunt was given the role after the business secretary, Vince Cable, was stripped of the responsibility over comments made to undercover reporters. The prime minister told ITV’s This Morning: “The crucial point, the really crucial point, is did Jeremy Hunt carry out his role properly with respect to BSkyB and I believe that he did.”