UPDATE, 8:37 AM: David Cameron began the afternoon session at Leveson by immediately clarifying hesitant and vague comments he’d made earlier about his relationship with Rebekah Brooks. Noting that his wife keeps excellent diaries, he said he was only at his country residence, just down the road from Brooks, every six weeks in 2008 & 2009 and even less than that in 2010. Once that was handled, questioning turned to the BSKyB bid and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s role in it.
Cameron has vociferously defended Hunt, refusing to refer him to an independent probe on ministerial conduct. That’s despite revelations of a close relationship between Hunt’s and James Murdoch’s offices and his public support of the bid before being given oversight of it. When Business Secretary Vince Cable was stripped of his responsibility in the bid, after he was caught by undercover reporters saying he’d declared “war on Murdoch,” Hunt was installed to replace him. Although the affair was turned around in an afternoon, Cameron insisted, “It was not a rushed, botched decision.” It also recently came to light that on the same day, Downing Street had received legal advice that remarks made by Hunt could be seen as “prejudging the issues.” Cameron told the inquiry, “If anyone had told me that Jeremy Hunt couldn’t do the job, I wouldn’t have given him the job.”
PREVIOUS, 6:06 AM: Toeing a familiar line, UK Prime Minister David Cameron today denied he ever had an “overt” or a “covert” deal with the Murdochs in exchange for their newspapers’ support. The PM also added that he didn’t believe in “wink and nod deals” and shot down the idea that the Conservative Party and Murdoch’s UK press arm News International got together and plotted an exchange to pass News Corp’s BSkyB bid.
The morning session of the Leveson Inquiry into UK media ethichs – which Cameron himself convened last year – got off to a slow start with counsel Robert Jay lobbing softballs at the relaxed politician. Increasingly, however, Cameron appeared frustrated by questions about his relationships with the Murdochs and former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks – along with a pretty damning text message – and his hiring of former News Of The World editor Andy Coulson as his communications director.
On his relationship with Brooks, who is now facing charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice related to the phone-hacking scandal, Cameron was somewhat vague. The two had known each other for some time before she started dating Cameron’s Oxfordshire neighbor Charlie Brooks, but he said their relationship grew after she became engaged to and moved in with Brooks, “a few miles down the road.” When queried as to how often they saw each other, Cameron said, “It’s very difficult because I don’t have a record and I don’t want to give you an [inaccurate] answer… Sometimes quite a bit… Definitely once she started going out with Charlie… I was definitely seeing her more often. Charlie and I play tennis so… ” (more…)