Published on 30 Apr 2012

Speaker compounds Cameron’s Hunt problems

The prime minister couldn’t have been clearer, repeating on the Marr programme yesterday that he saw the Leveson inquiry as the right place for Jeremy Hunt’s immediate future to be decided.

Speaker Bercow appears to think there’s a case for the opposition argument that David Cameron has got that very wrong and should be referring the case to Sir Alex Allan, his independent adviser on the ministerial code of conduct. So The speaker has effectively summoned David Cameron to the Commons to answer questions from Ed Miliband and other MPs on the subject, forcing the PM to to abandon local election campaigning.

I must admit I didn’t think Speaker Bercow would dare. It’s pre-election, campaigning going on everywhere. Even summoning the PM will be seen as an implied rebuke for the PM’s understanding of the rules on ministerial responsibility.┬áTory MPs are livid.

What will have weighed with the speaker is the fact that parliament is about to rise so there is no prime minister’s questions for two weeks (a recess around the Queen’s speech). The support of two ex Cabinet secretaries over the weekend for the view that Alex Allen should be looking into Jeremy Hunt will have helped the speaker weigh in on Ed Miliband’s side, as will the call from the Tory public administration committee chair, Bernard Jenkin, for an Alex Allan inquiry. Some old images of Sir Alex here that surfaced when he was appointed chairman of the joint intelligence committee 5 years ago.

Could the government have thought this all through a bit better? Is today’s misfortune home-made or unavoidable? The PM and the Cabinet secretary appear to have had two governing thoughts: hold on to Jeremy Hunt and avoid losing control of the process.

To that end, they decided to avoid asking Sir Alex Allan to look into the whole matter, just as they decided not to let him have a look into matters when Liam Fox’s future as defence secretary was in doubt. Independent inquiries can drag on and go down all sorts of routes.

Sir Alex would want to question Adam Smith, the former special adviser who sent the chummy emails and texts to BSkyB, something the Leveson inquiry will not do. Better to keep matters under the grip of Sir Jeremy Heywood and No. 10 with a concession of a public moment of reckoning for Jeremy Hunt at Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry (an exercise that would be relatively low risk because, as Lord Justice Leveson told Sir Jeremy Heywood on the phone last Tuesday afternoon, Leveson did not see it as his role to adjudicate on a minister’s future).

So David Cameron ends up in the awkward position of saying, on Marr yesterday and presumably at 3.30 in the Commons today, that he is waiting to see what is produced and said at Leveson before deciding on whether to refer Mr Hunt to Sir Alex Allan when he could simply let Sir Alex start looking into the whole matter now.

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8 reader comments

  1. Philip says:

    Serves Cameron right. It beggars belief that he doesn’t know what Hunt did or didn’t say to his political adviser in e-mails. Once the political adviser’s emails were mentioned in the Leveson enquiry, No 10 would have demanded to see them & whatever Hunt had been sending. And only the most supine & spineless Permanent Secretary at DCMS wouldn’t have demanded to see them as well.
    So I believe Cameron already knows whether Hunt got too close to News International & its BSKYB bid. The fact that he hasn’t come clean with the emails, suggests that they are at best murky, at worst, damning. He wants to keep them & Hunt’s resignation back beyond the local elections on Thursday. I’m so glad to see that the much trumpeted new approach to open government & accountability of the ConDems is being followed to rigorously – the moment it runs into a spot of bother.

  2. Citizen Smith says:

    Why does Alex Allan have to do anything now. Why cant the PM do his job (manager on subordinate) and drag Hunt into his office and have the initial discussion to establish why he released info to Murdoch’s empire before releasing to parliament and why Hunt hasn’t managed his special advisor. Cameron stated yesterday he didnt know whether any ‘bad management’ had taken place….. so why is he abdicating his responsbility as Hunt’s manager. Simple.

    If labour let this go then i’m done with the main parties and also Marr.

    Why do we have to spend money on another enquiry.

  3. Iain says:

    Agree with all you say Gary. Really disappointed that Marr got bullied by DC yesterday – if there was ever an opportunity to get him squarely on the defensive and nail him on any number of issues including his handling of the Hunt affair, it was yesterday.

  4. Yorkshire Lass says:

    To lose the Fox might be regarded as unfortunate, but to also lose the Hunt seems like carelessness…

    1. Philip says:

      Now that is classy!!

    2. sue_m says:

      brilliant, you have made my evening brighter :)

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