Jeremy Hunt: a question of accountability
Author: Zoe Stavri
Published on Apr 30, 2012
As I write this, Jeremy Hunt has not yet resigned. Following revelations at the Leveson Enquiry that Hunt may have had an improper relationship with News Corp and a News Corp lobbyist, many felt it was right that he should leave his post as Culture Secretary, including the Labour Opposition. Social media leapt in with amusing hashtags and the website HasJeremyHuntResignedYet.com.
Despite probable violations of ministerial code in his relationship with News Corp, Hunt remains. When a minister violates code, he or she is accountable to the Prime Minister, who may pass the issue on to an independent adviser. As outlined by Patrick Wintour, this process is insufficient for two major reasons. Firstly, David Cameron, in his tenure as Prime Minister, has never referred a single minister to the independent adviser. Not even Liam Fox. Secondly, the ostensibly independent adviser is not particularly independent: the Public Affairs Select Committee went so far as to recommend he be stripped of the title “independent”.
It is also worth noting that this process cannot begin until Lord Justice Leveson has investigated Hunt. Patrick Wintour notes that this was agreed in a private conversation between Leveson and cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood.
Once again, we find ourselves in a situation wherein those in power cannot be adequately scrutinised. Despite the numerous public calls for Hunt’s resignation or, at the very least, a full investigation into whether he breached ministerial code, this process may take months, if indeed we ever find out the extent of Hunt’s transgressions.
The system is currently stacked in favour of those in power. Conversations and negotiations may take place behind closed doors, the Prime Minister holds all the cards in initiating an inquiry, and the inquiry is unlikely to be independent. All of this needs to change.
With a system like this, is it really surprising that our ministers are not held accountable for their actions? In the current climate, we can expect more Jeremy Hunts.