A Labour Party motion calling for an investigation into Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s handling of News Corp’s bid for BSkyB has been quashed in Britain’s House of Commons. Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party prevailed in the vote, winning by 290 to 252. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had called for his Liberal Democrats to abstain in what now looks like an effort to make a point in the face of Cameron’s earlier independent decision not to launch a Hunt probe.
Overall, Clegg cut a humble figure at Leveson saying he was basically relegated to the kids’ table the first time he met Rupert Murdoch. His party faced “indifference at best, and derision at worst” from Murdoch execs, he said. Still, regarding BSkyB, he was told by a Parliamentary aide that it “would be good for the Lib Dems to be open to the bid, otherwise we would expect no favorable treatment from the Murdoch press.” Clegg said he once questioned the timing of News Corp’s bid for the 61% of BSkyB it did not already own since news of the acquisition came right after the 2010 general election. Clegg said he was “quizzical,” so, he asked Murdoch at News International’s summer party that year, “Why are you doing this now?” The answer, Clegg said, was not revealing.
Over in Parliament, a debate ran all afternoon on the question of the inquiry into Hunt’s conduct and whether he gave accurate and truthful information to Parliament and was responsible for his special adviser (Hunt’s adviser Adam Smith resigned after exchanges he had with News Corp’s chief lobbyist were revealed during testimony provided by James Murdoch in April). Earlier today, we also got one of those good old politicians-as-schoolboys exchanges as Labour leader Ed Miliband directed questions at Cameron. Cameron in turn, produced a letter from Sir Alex Allan, the independent adviser on ministers’ interests. The letter (handily dated today) read in part: “The fact that there is an on-going judicial Inquiry probing and taking evidence under oath means that I do not believe that I could usefully add to the facts in this case though I remain available should circumstances change or new evidence emerge.”
Also questioned at length today at Leveson was Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond who is thought to have a cozy relationship with Rupert Murdoch. Salmond maintained that he never made a quid pro quo pact with Murdoch over the BSkyB bid, although he was in favor of it given that the satcaster is a “huge employer in Scotland.” Back in February Murdoch tweeted, “Alex Salmond clearly most brilliant politician in U.K. Gave Cameron back of his hand this week. Loved by Scots.” When queen’s counsel Robert Jay asked about it, Salmond said, “There wasn’t a deal here.”