Jeremy Hunt 'sympathetic but not supportive' of BSkyB bid

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt Photo: Leveson Inquiry

There are some significant new revelations from Jeremy Hunt's appearance before the Leveson Inquiry this morning, during which the Culture Secretary appears to have settled on the phrase "I was sympathetic but not supportive" of News Corporation's £8 billion bid for BSkyB.

Mr Hunt was asked whether he should have been given responsibility for the bid given his previously positive comments. He replied that it was widely known he was sympathetic to the bid and didn't think there were any plurality issues for the media industry, but he wasn't "going to second-guess the regulators".

Sky television offices in Osterley, west London Credit: Fiona Hanson/PA

We were also told of a text message Jeremy Hunt sent to James Murdoch shortly after the bid had been given the green light by European regulators. In it, Mr Hunt texted his congratulations and wrote, "Only OfCom [the UK media regulator] to go".

At the time, the Business Secretary Vince Cable was in charge of overseeing the bid. Asked if he would have sent that text if he'd known responsibility for the BSkyB bid would be transferred to his Culture Department, Jeremy Hunt replied "no".

Business Secretary Vince Cable Credit: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire

The counsel for Lord Leveson, Robert Jay QC, also went through the events of the day on which Vince Cable was stripped of responsibility for the bid after telling undercover reporters that he was "declaring war on the Murdochs".

Jeremy Hunt had a telephone conversation with James Murdoch who told him of his concern about Vince Cable's "acute bias". Ten minutes later, Mr Hunt emailed the head of communications at Number 10, Andy Coulson, and texted the Chancellor George Osborne.

An hour later, Mr Osborne had texted back: "I hope you like the solution," he wrote, referring to the decision by David Cameron to move the responsibilty for the bid from Vince Cable to Jeremy Hunt.

It was that decision to give the bid to Mr Hunt, despite his previously broadly supportive comments, which keeps pushing the pressure back to the door of Downing Street.

And it is why Jeremy Hunt is no longer the effective shield for David Cameron he once was.