Watching Hunt at Leveson revealed the depths of politicians’ debasement | Tom Watson

Jeremy Hunt’s ministerial career is surely over. But after today’s Leveson sitting, the scent now leads to George Osborne

The 19th century American senator, John Randolph, famously said: “We all know our duty better than we discharge it.”

Jeremy Hunt’s brittle handwaving at Leveson this morning embodied Randolph’s assessment. At points it looked like Robert Jay had sucked the very breath from Hunt’s lungs. The culture secretary’s tone was softer than usual, devoid of lilt. It was as if he were speaking through an invisible oxygen mask. After weeks of humiliation, the PM should now switch off the invisible life support machine on his ministerial career.

Hunt could have learned a lot from Senator Randolph. Despite his heavy drinking and alleged opium use, Randolph was strong of mind and will, his charisma shone in every room. Not for him the tiny calibrations of the text or the obsequious notes to his masters.

Hunt, once considered a head-to-head contender with Michael Gove, has long since been passed in the olympian struggle to replace David Cameron as Conservative leader. He has been chewed up and permanently damaged by the system he so assiduously courted. It’s a wretched sight to witness.

Just this week he wrote asking me to be an “Olympic ambassador” – his appointed representative to welcome foreign dignitaries to the Games. My answer will be merci, Jeremy, but, as President Mitterrand once told the BBC about Disneyland, “ce n’est pas ma tasse de thé”. It was a kind gesture but I will not be allowing myself to be appointed by you to anything. You may carry the title, but I will not give you the authority.

Hunt is the extreme example of those politicians who courted Murdoch and neglected their duty. And though their words denied complicity, I think Robert Jay has admirably divided the wheat from the chaff during his gently paced questioning.

And if there was ever an example of how out of touch the government has become – they’ve even cocked up their own spin. The announcement – during the middle of Hunt’s evidence – that George Osborne had U-turned on another tax rise was lamentable. Even the most supportive lobby journalists had their intelligence insulted at such an obvious diversionary tactic. That Osborne would even consider trying to bury bad news in an inquiry into media ethics would be hilarious if it weren’t so chillingly arrogant.

In the end, the hasty announcement served to focus the attention on the one interesting revelation of the day: that Osborne texted Hunt about “our solution” [to the BSkyB issue]. Osborne has laid a trail to his own door today. And Jeremy Hunt has pointed the pack in his direction. I have a hunch that Hunt will be hounded out of office, but the scent now leads next to Osborne.

And with all the mesmeric revelations at the royal courts, poor Tommy Sheridan sits in his living room, ringed by an electronic tag that forces him home before the moon rises. If ever a man deserved a second chance it is Sheridan. If the prime minister wanted to atone, he might start by using his power to quash the Sheridan conviction: made by an eight to six verdict of a jury who were not in full possession of the facts.

Randolph once said of a rival, Edward Livingston: “He is a man of splendid abilities, but utterly corrupt. Like rotten mackerel by moonlight, he stinks and shines.”

There have been a lot of shiny politicians in front of Robert Jay this week. I still have the stench of their debasement in my nostrils.

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