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I dip in and out of the Leveson Inquiry. Some big names come on, and every time I think “Ooh! Exciting!” and switch on, vaguely expecting the climactic scene from A Few Good Men or at least the bit where Marisa Tomei is called as a witness at the end of My Cousin Vinnie. Instead, of course, it’s a dry, technical debate about the rights and wrongs of media regulation. My mayfly attention span drifts, I realise I haven’t been listening for several minutes, and I switch off and go and watch the baby monkey riding on a pig on YouTube again.
Every so often, though, some genuine drama comes up, or a real character. Michael Gove the other day, with his Latin tags and erudition and stern defence of press freedom, was one. Rebekah Brooks was sharp and funny and had a rather unexpectedly flirty thing going on with Robert Jay QC. Ken Clarke was Ken Clarke, and stopped just short of getting the brandy and cigars out in an avuncular, leaning-back-in-his-chair display.
Today there was another one that was worth watching, but not for the charm or wit of the witness. Jeremy Hunt has been in the hot seat, and it’s never been hotter. The Culture Secretary (who looks a bit like an ageing Blue Peter presenter, or, with his quiff and boyish wide eyes, like a shifty Tintin) has been beaten like a ginger stepchild.
There were quite a few points when the referee should have stopped the fight. But the highlight was a congratulatory text to James Murdoch on 21 December, while Vince Cable was still in charge of the BSkyB bid: “Great and congrats on Brussels [after the bid had received European approval]. Just Ofcom to go”. Later that day, Hunt was given the role. He also admitted to being “sympathetic” towards the bid before getting involved, even as it was pointed out that Cable had been moved off for being biased against it. “Doesn’t it follow that you shouldn’t have acquired the role, for the equal and opposite reason?”, inquired Jay, in his faintly lizardlike manner. Hunt seemed to gulp.
But it’s not so much the inconsistencies and weak answers (although as someone pointed out on Twitter, “he’s now so full of holes the bullets are going straight through”), it was the squirming, and the umming and ahhing and appearance of a junior employee who’d been getting away without doing anything for weeks but had now been hauled in front of the boss. “I now understand quasi-judicial roles much better,” he said, nodding emphatically: it sounded like “Yes, I will try much harder to turn up on time in the mornings.”
Surely he’s for the chop (some enterprising soul has set up a website called hasjeremyhuntresignedyet.com already). But at least he gave us a final laugh on his way out. Jay asked him about the now infamous “hiding behind a tree” incident that our own Iain Martin recorded in these blogs recently: “The Culture Secretary is out there hiding behind a tree, I said. We know, came the response, but he doesn’t want to come in because all the media correspondents are here”, and Hunt wanted to go to James Murdoch’s party without being noticed.
“There may or may not have been trees,” Hunt managed, lamely. Surely that will be carved on his political headstone.