As-it-happened: Murdoch at Leveson, Jeremy Hunt statement and PMQs
09:30 – Good morning, all, and welcome to another day of sturm und drang at the Leveson inquiry and in parliament. I'm based in the press gallery in the Palace of Westminster, as usual, from where I'll be bringing you in-depth coverage of Rupert Murdoch's appearance before the Leveson inquiry throughout the day. We'll be breaking away from Murdoch to cover prime minister's questions at midday, of course, where Ed Miliband is expected to try to bring the entire government – rather than just the embattled Jeremy Hunt – into disrepute. This is all set to be a thoroughly dramatic day in British politics – do let me know what you think about it @alex__stevenson on Twitter or by email on email@example.com.
09:40 – I've just written a snap piece up on the GDP figures out this morning confirming that a double-dip recession is now reality. The 0.2% contraction between the beginning of January and the end of March is catastrophic news for the coalition. The difference between -0.2% and the forecast 0.2% is not that big, really, but in political terms is just huge. Big trouble for Cameron and Osborne, that's for sure.
09:50 – Bookmakers William Hill have just sent through an update on their odds on the next minister to leave the Cabinet. Culture, media and sport secretary Jeremy Hunt had been a 50/1 outsider, but it is now even money on him after yesterday's evidence from James Murdoch at Leveson. They've closed their book on him, but spokesman Graham Sharpe says there's a decent chance he'll be able to survive. That's a very decent point. Some people are asking this morning whether Ed Miliband has overplayed his hand in demanding that Hunt resign so quickly; we'll have to see how he does at PMQs before forming a judgement.
09:56 – Nearly time for Rupert Murdoch to begin the morning session at the Leveson inquiry, but there's just time for you to get your ahead around yesterday's proceedings in our handy five-minute summary. We answer the questions: What has Jeremy Hunt done and can he survive?
10:00 – Right, Big Ben has bonged. Over at the royal courts of justice it's time to get underway…
10:04 – Well, we're supposed to, anyway – a slight delay here. Meanwhile, by way of filler, here's an interesting fresh line from the TUC's Brendan Barber on the recession figures:
Austerity isn’t working. The government should look across the Atlantic and follow President Obama’s alternative that has reduced unemployment and brought growth back to the USA.
10:10 – OK, off we go. Lord Justice Leveson is making a statement on what happened yesterday. He doesn't mind people writing about it, but says: "I shall approach the relationship between the press and politicians from an entirely non-partisan judicial perspective." This balanced approach is bad news for Miliband, whose quick calls for Hunt to go might now look a bit rash. Leveson makes clear he's not taking sides, but says documents such as these cannot often be taken "at face value" and says he wants to hear "every side of the story before drawing conclusions".
10:12 – Right – after that opening little statement the witness today – one Rupert Murdoch – is called to the stand. Murdoch takes the oath. His first name is Keith, we discover. There will be more surprising revelations to come, that's for sure.
10:14 – The first question gets a laugh from Murdoch – has he been following politics for the last 60 years. "I suppose so," he says, eventually. "With varying intensity." Next, inquiry QC Robert Jay puts rumours to Murdoch that he hasn't forgiven the PM for setting up the inquiry. "The need is fairly obvious," Murdoch says. He sounds thoroughly grudging. And is very slow to respond, just as he was last year. This is going to be slow, painful progress. "I welcome the opportunity because I want to put certain myths to bed," Murdoch says.
10:18 – These are very interesting opening questions. General, about the inquiry, rather off-putting for Murdoch I suspect. Not that he looks rattled. Just slightly bored. He says he became a "great admirer" of Margaret Thatcher after she was elected – and remains a "great admirer". We're back to 1979, now, and Murdoch is remembering the state of play then. Everyone fancied a change, he says. Jay, rather scattergun at the moment, quotes Murdoch from a 1999 Time magazine interview talking about libertarian rules. He then jumps to recent tweets which "convey a rather hostile approach to right-wingers and toffs". Murdoch, dismissive, says:
Don't take my tweets too seriously.
That gets the first courtroom laugh of the day. He says the "extremists on both sides were piling in on me."
10:18 – Jay says the plan for today is to work through political issues chronologically – then phone-hacking – then broader questions. We have a plan…
10:19 – An odd beginning from Jay, there, having begun with a rough bruising-up before actually revealing his hand and being a bit politer. Perhaps he felt he had to give Murdoch some guidance, as the octogenarian was starting to laugh at him. Awkward.
10:22 – OK, now firmly back in 1981, then, and Murdoch's purchase of Times Newspapers. Murdoch met the then prime minister, Thatcher, to discuss the purchase. Here's a recent story from the Guardian about that meeting. "I think I'd asked Mrs Thatcher 'can I come and see you?' And she said 'yes, come to lunch on Sunday'."
10:28 – Jay is in the mood for talking "psychologically". Murdoch denies that he was trying to persuade Thatcher that he was "one of us", in her words. Then, here's an interesting question: why was it important that Thatcher understood the "nature and quality" of his bid? The Times was a "great institution", he claims. "I thought it was perfectly right he knew what was at stake." Very interesting opening exchanges here. Murdoch is sticking to the line that he was talking about business, but Jay is suggesting that there was more to this than just money. Politics, in short. Courtroom laugh number two:
I didn't have the will to crush the unions. I might have had the desire…
Now that's what's known as semantics.
10:32 – Murdoch is resisting the suggestion that there was some mutual back-scratching agreed at this meeting – political support in exchange for approval for the bid.
"It's all very well, Mr Murdoch," says Jay, sounding a bit rattled, but he's forced to move on, to the details of the undertakings Murdoch offered during the purchase by Lord Thomson. Jay suggests the very fact that undertakings are made says something about the power of newspaper proprietors. "Let's face it," Murdoch says. "If an editor is sending a newspaper broke, it is the responsibility of the proprietor to step in. For the sake of the journalists, for the sake of everybody."
10:36 – January 26th 1981, and the minutes of a meeting between Murdoch and the secretary of state, John Biffen, who was minded to refer the decision to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC). Here's an interesting BBC article from 1981 detailing Murdoch's bid to take over the Times and Sunday Times, for your context.
10:45 – Jay is reading out more details of the 1981 sale. Biffen was reluctant refer the purchase to the MMC because there was a risk Thomson might pull out of the sale, it appears. "One view might be the Cabinet decision was predicated on the basis there was no commercial advantage in referring to the MMC," Jay suggests. Murdoch agrees "now you've shown me all this" – not revealing much, it should be noted. So Jay puts it to Murdoch that he "got the message across" to Biffen in the January 26th meeting that the MMC referral might scupper the deal. "Not really," Murdoch says. "It was [the] Thomsons who put the gun to their head."
So far Jay hasn't got Murdoch to admit to anything at all, really. Any private communications between Murdoch and Biffen in that meeting are remaining that way, for now.
10:54 – We've turned now to the situation in Australia at the time, when Murdoch was facing allegations of bias by newspapers owned by Murdoch. He denies any such bias, of course.
Next, ex-Times editor Harold Evans' book released last year is turned to. We're looking at Murdoch's style of leadership amid suggestions that he was a 'Sun King' kind of boss. Evans wrote last year that Murdoch exercises "charismatic authority" based on how the leader is perceived, rather than on him giving specific instructions. Murdoch concedes:
I run a company with a great deal of decentralisation. I don't think I have any aura.
Leveson interrupts and has a go. He suggests that Murdoch has been on the world stage of the press for many, many years, so his inferiors would only "take a different line" very rarely "out of respect for your views". Murdoch doesn't make much of a reply.
10:58 – Rupert Murdoch is definitely being much more pugnacious in tone than he was in last year's select committee hearing. He just made a jab at other newspapers, suggesting they're not as good as they used to be. Unlike the Sun, of course, which he thinks is marvellous.
10:59 – Murdoch says: "I have great respect for the British public." He agrees that their views are the best "arbiters" of what makes good journalistic copy.
11:01 – Evans' book about his year as editor of the Times recalls Murdoch saying: "I give instructions to my editors all around the world. Why shouldn't I in London?" Murdoch doesn't remember that at all.
That's the end of the first hour, and it's been a painful opening set of exchanges. Very little progress being made by Jay so far.
11:16 – Oh dear. We seem to have lost the last couple of entries, which is too bad. A slight technical glitch there. Although there wasn't that much to be honest – just a very brief look at the publication of the Hitler Diaries in 1983, which Murdoch conceded he had to take full responsibility for. "This is a marathon, not a sprint," Leveson then observed, and we disappeared for a five-minute break. Which gets you back up to speed.
11:19 – It hasn't been a great opening stint from Jay, who has touched on some issues about Murdoch's leadership but not been able to come up with anything beyond anecdotal evidence. So far, then, very little to write home about. But there's still a long, long way to go today.
11:21 – And we're back, with the news that Jeremy Hunt's special adviser is stepping down. This is a really significant development. But will sacrificing a spad be enough to save the secretary of state himself? Interesting timing, with less than an hour to go before prime minister's questions. And barely just over an hour before Jeremy Hunt makes a statement to the Commons on the issue. Here's what the spad, Adam Smith, has to say:
I appreciate that my activities at times went too far… it is only right for me to step down as special adviser to Jeremy Hunt.
11:29 – Back at Leveson, and Murdoch is being questioned on general points of principle – the need for transparency, keeping people "in great positions of responsibility" in check, etc. Leveson wants to know if Murdoch thinks there's "a distinction between those who hold themselves out as having a public figure like politicians or like newspaper proprietors and those who don't come into that category, like people's who've achieved fame, made money, because they are very good at what they do." Murdoch says that "sometimes it's right to look behind the facade".
11:31 – politics.co.uk's editor, Ian Dunt, who followed James Murdoch's evidence yesterday, has this to say on the resignation of Hunt's special adviser Adam Smith: If Hunt is to survive it is no surprise that Downing Street will need to heap some of the blame onto the people under him while they separately try to discredit Frédéric Michel, Murdoch's go-to man.
11:33 – Jay quotes a story at a party in which Murdoch was gloating about a political development – something to do with Ken Livingstone, but I'm afraid I didn't quite catch what it was. "It was the influence of alcohol," Murdoch mutters. "It was a joke." A ripple of laughter in court room 73 there…
11:40 – The role of Murdoch's fixer, Woodrow Wyatt, is now being looked at. Jay is grilling Murdoch on his relationship with Wyatt and Margaret Thatcher. Wyatt was a confidant of both. Jay, not having got very far, pauses. And Murdoch ventures this opinion:
"Mrs Thatcher had much more than me supporting her in the press. Other big newspapers. Editorials don't get read by that many people, but there was the Daily Telegraph which even then was the mouthpiece of the Tory party, and the Daily Mail."
But Jay points out that Murdoch was the biggest player then, just as he is the biggest player now. And here Murdoch is talking about his view of the relationship between politicians and editors. After an agonisingly long pause, Murdoch says: "If you're talking about newspapers alone, yes." He then adds:
I go to election every day. People can stop buying my newspapers at any time. It is only natural for politicians to reach out to editors and sometimes proprietors if they're available to explain what they're doing, and hoping that makes an impression and gets through. But I was only one of several.
These are the first significant musings from Rupert Murdoch so far today. Jay's tactic of keeping fairly quiet, and moving fairly slowly, is drawing observations out of Murdoch which are very interesting indeed.
11:42 – 1992, and the famous headline 'It was the Sun wot won it'. Murdoch says he didn't "appreciate" that headline. The issue here is Murdoch's view about the influence of newspapers on voters. James Murdoch, Murdoch says, recalls that Rupert M gave Kelvin Mackenzie, the paper's editor at the time, "a hell of a bollocking". He says newspapers "don't have that sort of power", when it comes to their influence on voters.
11:49 – Jay is trying to tease out why Murdoch backed the Tories in 1992, anyway. We're looking at whether Murdoch's decisions about backing politicians at elections are influenced by his commercial considerations. He suggests that Neil Kinnock would have taken steps to curb Murdoch's power, and that this might have had something to do with support for the Tories. Of course Murdoch denies this. "I don't try to find the winning candidate. I try to find the best candidate based on the issues." And then:
"I never let my commercial interests, whatever they are, enter into any consideration of elections."
11:51 – This is weird. Murdoch is having a senior moment. He gets confused and seems surprised that the Tories won the 1992 general election. "Yes, they won, the Conservatives," Jay says, sounding impatient. Awkward laughter in the courtroom. Very odd. "Oh," Murdoch says vaguely, "we're back to 1992…"
11:54 – Murdoch admits he hopes his newspapers "can have influence on things we believe in", but isn't very interested in political parties, per se. Jay suggests this is "idealistic". Commercial considerations are "wholly subordinated", he asks. "Absolutely," Murdoch says. "I have no commercial interests apart from my newspapers." Wait… what? That's what Jay's talking about! Oh dear. A little bit of obfuscation from Murdoch, I'm afraid.
11:58 – We're getting very close to PMQs, now, so it's time to step away from Leveson. Jay has reached the run-up to the 1997 general election. So far he's managed to get Murdoch to give a very clear denial, under oath, that he never lets business factors get in the way of deciding which political parties he should support. But this is a long, long process, and the main event – Murdoch discussing phone-hacking – is all still to come after lunch.
12:03 – Speaker John Bercow calls questions to the prime minister, and we're off. "This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others," Cameron says, part of the usual opening spiel. They say that every week, but this week it gets a sarcastic laugh from opposition MPs. Ho, ho.
12:05 – OK, here's Ed Miliband. Big cheer from Labour. After tributes to a fallen British soldier, Miliband begins with the economy – and the "catastrophic news" that Britain is back in recession. "What's his excuse this time?" Cameron says the figures are "very disappointing". He says he doesn't "seek to excuse them". He insists there's "no complacency" in the government. Any fight in him at all? Well, he says it's "very difficult recovering from the deepest recession in living memory". There was too much debt, he explains. "We have got to rebalance our economy, we need a bigger private sector… this is painstaking difficult work but we will stick with our plan."
12:07 – "This is a recession made by him and the chancellor in Downing Street," Miliband roars in reply. "Arrogance and complacency" are the watchwords of the leadership of the opposition, delivering with a jabbing pointing figure at the prime minister. Cameron stands up in response to say that no one thinks these problems have emerged in the last two years.
This is a tough and difficult situation that the economy is in, but the one thing we mustn't do is abandon public spending and deficit reduction plans because the solution to a debt crisis cannot be more debt.
Some more resistance from the PM, now.
12:08 – "It's all bluster," Miliband replies. "His plan has failed!" He presses on by saying Cameron claimed Britain was "out of the danger zone" – ouch. He quotes Nadine Dorries, the Tory backbencher, calling Cameron and Osborne posh boys. Then Miliband moves on to the "political disaster" of Jeremy Hunt and the BSkyB bid. Miliband says a "constant flow of information" was coming out of Hunt's office. He asks:
Having seen the 163 pages published yesterday, is the prime minister seriously trying to tell us that the secretary of state was acting as he should have done in a transparent, impartial and fair manner?
12:10 – Cameron seeks to dodge Hunt for now, addressing the economy instead. Something of between a rock and a hard place about this. Eventually he turns to the Leveson inquiry, which "I set up", he points out. "I believe to try to step in and try to prejudge that inquiry would try to be wrong," Cameron says. A brief silence as the audacity of this approach sinks in, and then the opposition benches erupt in revolt. They're simply not buying it. So Cameron reads out Leveson's statement from earlier this morning, that "it is very important to hear every side of the story before drawing conclusions". Leveson had made clear he wasn't taking sides, but here is the prime minister quoting him directly to back up his case.
12:12 – A great response from Miliband, who points out that Leveson isn't responsible for the integrity of the government. He claims that Hunt was helping News Corp's bid for BSkyB. "They were hatching a plan to ensure it would be 'game over' for opposition to the bid," Miliband points out. Cameron quotes Miliband yesterday talking yesterday, saying that "the Leveson inquiry takes its course". He's desperately sticking to this line. A very weak one, I'm afraid, but it's better than nothing. "He cannot resist the passing political bandwagon," Cameron fumes.
12:14 – After an interruption from the Speaker, Miliband whines at high pitch:
Totally pathetic answers! If he can't defend the conduct of his own ministers, his ministers ought to be out of the door! He ought to fire them!
This isn't going well for the PM, who is after all facing one of his toughest PMQs yet. Hunt is looking very sheepish on the Cabinet benches. Cameron makes clear the culture secretary "has my full support". Big cheer of loyalty from the Tories. "He will give a very good account of himself," Cameron says. It sounds like an order. There was independent advice from Ofcom taken at every step, he claims.
12:16 – While he remains in place, "the shadow of sleaze will hang over this government." Miliband is going for it. Andy Coulson, Rebekah Brooks, Jeremy Hunt – "it's time to stop putting his cronies before the interests of the country!" – blistering stuff from Miliband. Cameron claims EdM is "flip-flopping all over the place", but it's not working. This is a terrible performance from the PM, who is doing his best to be firm and aggressive. "I don't duck my responsibilities," Cameron shouts, blustering and aggressive.
12:18 – PMQs snap verdict: The twin blows of Leveson/Murdoch/Hunt and the return of a double-dip recession made that one of the hardest ever PMQs for David Cameron. Ed Miliband, who has a knack of missing open goals, didn't mess this one up. His short questions were forcefully delivered, highlighting the PM's weaknesses and leaving the government in a very ropy state. Hunt really is on the brink here – he faces an enormous test when, at 12:30, he will deliver a statement to MPs.
12:23 – Prime minister's questions has calmed down since the main exchanges, although Cameron has made a couple more shouty attacks on Labour's handling of the economy. Meanwhile at the Leveson inquiry I see they've gone off for another brief break. The best bit we've missed seems to have been a porcupine-related revelation – when Jay asked if Murdoch had said the following quote to Tony Blair – and Murdoch agreed that he had actually said it!
If our flirtation is ever consummated Tony, I suspect we will end up making love like porcupines very, very carefully.
12:26 – Back in the Commons chamber, David Cameron continues to answer questions from backbenchers. David Amess, a Tory backbencher, informs the House that his mother Maude will celebrate her 100th birthday next Wednesday. She was a former land girl, he mentions. Cameron says he's already written to her to wish her a happy birthday.
12:30 – Another dig against Ken Livingstone's tax affairs from Cameron. He mentions that he agreed with Alan Sugar, who was "spot on" to say 'don't vote for Ken'.
12:34 – At Leveson, Jay is now asking Rupert Murdoch about his pursuit of newspapers in China. All rather slow-paced. In the Commons, Cameron is once again raising cheers from Tory MPs on the economy. Astonishing, really, that they have the audacity to do so on the day that we discovered Britain is once again in recession. The PM presses on nonetheless: "We mustn't give up the low interest rates and the credible fiscal policy we have."
12:39 – Time now for Jeremy Hunt's statement to the Commons. He says 273 days have passed since the start of the Leveson inquiry. "This is not the time to jump on a political bandwagon," he says. Uproar from opposite. He says the public want to hear the views of Leveson "when he has considered all of the evidence". Echoing the PM's line, there. But he's going to defend himself nonetheless.
I have strictly followed due process, seeking the advice of independent regulators and after careful consideration acting on their advice.
Opposition MPs are asking whether this is really true… but Hunt presses on nonetheless. He says it is "categorically not the case" that a "back-channel" existed between his office and News Corp. "However," Hunt continues, trying to be as calm as possible, the special adviser has resigned. "I believe he did so unintentionally and did not believe he was doing anything more than giving advice on the process," Hunt adds. It really is an interesting approach, this – sacrificing the pawn to save the knight. Or whatever Hunt is.
12:42 – Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman begins by saying the BSkyB bid was of "profound importance". She points out business secretary Vince Cable had been stripped of his responsibility, before pointing out the culture secretary had already made up HIS mind in favour of the bid. "The decision as to whether he should do it and could do it fairly was a matter for him and him alone," Harman says severely. Hunt had to be transparent, impartial and fair in his quasi-judicial role, after all, she points out. Ed Balls, sitting behind Harman, is jabbering away making this tougher for Hunt. Miliband is nodding up and down like the Churchill dog on the other side. "Either Michel was Mystic Meg or he had been told," Harman says, referring to News Corp's public affairs chief. A long list of questions for Hunt to be answered, here.
12:46 – Harman cites paragraph 33 of the ministerial code which states that the minister himself is responsible for the conduct of the special adviser… that's a very, very good point. Harman is doing well here. "The reality is he wasn't judging this bid, he was backing this bid." Hunt says he is "hugely disappointed" by Harman's response, to jeers from Labour MPs, because she refused to "rise above party politics". That is preposterous. Bercow tells off Hunt for being party political himself, suggesting that Hunt "addresses matters for which he is responsible" rather than Labour's record. Hunt says Labour's frontbenchers "need to show a degree of humility". He's trying to be statesmanlike, but it just feels like he's trying to dodge the question.
12:48 – Hunt argues that just because he expressed support for the bid when he wasn't responsible for it, that didn't mean he'd made his mind up when he did become responsible for it. He has a good point there. But it doesn't address any of the criticisms being raised after yesterday's evidence session. David Cameron, sitting behind Hunt, is now doing the nodding job. Clegg, who has also chose to remain in the chamber, seems much less interested. As you'd expect – it's not one of his ministers on the line.
12:51 – Hunt plays his trump card – a communication from Michel (I think) that "my contacts were solely with Mr Hunt's adviser". "Ah!" Tory backbenchers, sounding relieved, utter. Hunt wraps up with another attack on Labour. The Commons remains packed, by the way.
12:53 – A very supportive question from the Tory chair of the culture, media and sport select committee, John Whittingdale. But observers are already passing judgement on Hunt's performance. Here's former deputy PM – and phone-hacking victim – John Prescott:
Watching Hunt. It's a car crash, isn't it? Smears others & takes no responsibility #leveson
— John Prescott (@johnprescott) April 25, 2012
12:54 – Next, a question from Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat MP, who calls for decisions to be made by the regulator rather than the secretary of state. Hunt says Foster makes a "powerful point because the perception of impartiality is as important as the impartiality itself". A colleague of mine in the press gallery wryly observers: "Too right it is."
12:56 – Hunt is unhappy with a question from Tom Watson, who used the word "incriminating". Watson also joked about a "single rogue advisor" – a play on the 'single rogue phone-hacker' excuse used by News International for so long.
13:02 – Hunt is viewed as a "man of the utmost integrity", Tory MP Sajid Javid says. What a marvellous opportunity this is for backbenchers to be hopelessly loyal in the face of adversity. Clegg has now made an exit, but Cameron continues to stand – or rather sit – by his man.
13:09 – Meanwhile, here's a summary of what we've missed at the Leveson inquiry…
– Murdoch confirms he stepped in to prevent Lord Patten's book on Hong Kong being published. This was "one more mistake of mine".
– He confirmed discussing the looming Iraq War with Tony Blair in March 2003, but says he only met the New Labour leader two or three times a year, on average.
– Murdoch was full of "regret" at the Sun attacking Gordon Brown so forcefully, but went on the offensive over claims that Brown had been phone-hacked over a story revealing his son's illness. He told the inquiry that the Sun had found out about the story via the father of another child at the hospital. Brown had laid into Murdoch last year.
The best quote from the last 40 minutes or so, referring to Tony Blair, is probably Murdoch saying:
If he wanted my opinion he only had to read editorials in the Sun.
13:11 – This was actually a few minutes, ago, but never mind. Dennis Skinner, the Beast of Bolsover, got in a typically contemptuous question to Jeremy Hunt in the Commons chamber. Doesn't all this confirm he suggested, that "when posh boys are in trouble they sack the servants". That got a big roar, as you can imagine. "Why doesn't he do the decent thing – tell dodgy Dave and Gideon and get out and resign." Hunt observed in reply that "Adam Smith's resignation is of huge regret to me".
13:12 – And there's a very odd answer from Hunt… He was asked about Cameron predicting in 2010 that lobbying was the 'next big scandal waiting to happen'. Hunt observed: "I think forewarned is forearmed." Um… right…
13:23 – Hunt seems to have recovered some of his composure in the last ten minutes or so. Repeating the line again and again tends to reinforce one's confidence in it, after all. Barry Gardiner, Labour, is asking a very complicated question, to which Hunt gives an interesting take about what he knew about before yesterday.
I didn't know that the content of communications until yesterday, nor did I know the volume of communications. I knew Adam Smith was authorised to be one of a number of contact points within my department but it is clear that the volume and content of communications was not appropriate.
Then Michael Ellis, the only MP brave enough to take on Russell Brand yesterday, gets up to update the chamber on what's going on in Leveson. He tells MPs that Gordon Brown phoned Murdoch and said he had declared war on him. Ellis asks: "Does the secretary of state think the party opposite are using this as a self-serving opportunity to bash News International? Hunt replies, simply: YES!
13:26 – It's getting much more hectic in the Commons now as Hunt continues answering questions from MPs. After a bit of a lull things are getting worked up. Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative MP, yells his way through a question on all the "action" the government is making on phone-hacking and the like. Labour are barely letting him get a word in, and Elphicke finishes by shouting his way through the storm. "It's time the honourable members opposite took a responsible attitude," Hunt says, all holier-than-thou.
13:29 – Here's an interesting tweet from a journalist down at the inquiry. Yesterday James Murdoch was embarrassed when Jay read out emails in which he was more than a little bit profane. Like father like son, it seems…
Rupert to advisers in courtroom: "Let's get him to get this fucking thing over with today".
— Dan Sabbagh (@dansabbagh) April 25, 2012
13:32 – Rob Flello gives Hunt "a fourth opportunity" to explain why Adam Smith was authorised to contact News Corp about the bid. It was the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's permanent secretary who made that call, Hunt says.
13:37 – Tory MP Jason McCartney asks a question about "dodgy Gordon" and whether he ever bothered Murdoch about phone-hacking. Speaker John Bercow isn't impressed, and moves on as none of the question had anything to do with Hunt's responsibilities. At least it gave Hunt a break, and got in another dig against Gordon.
13:42 – Hunt has been going for 70 minutes or so now, as the questions keep coming. But with Leveson due to return at 2pm I hope you'll forgive me if I sneak off for a bite to lunch. I'll be back shortly before then for Rupert Murdoch's next brush with Jay and co.
14:06 – And we're back for the afternoon session of Rupert Murdoch's evidence session at the Leveson inquiry. Murdoch is talking about his first meeting with Cameron – some sort of picnic event involving lots of children in the garden of Blenheim Palace. He came away extremely "impressed" with how David Cameron treated his family. Did he think Cameron was "lightweight" then? "No," Murdoch says thoughtfully. "It was too early to make that judgement."
14:15 – Murdoch says Brown, Blair and Cameron all attended Rebekah Brooks' 2008 wedding to Charlie Brooks. After some confusion about the date of when the Sun came out for the Tories – I remember seeing Labour cheerleaders at party conference sing around a piano as the presses rolled through the night – Jay is asking about whether Murdoch discussed media issues like Ofcom, Andy Coulson, BBC licence fees with the Conservative leader. Murdoch says he was "just as surprised as anybody else" about the middle of those three, and says he didn't talk with any of those about Cameron.
Here's a great quote from Murdoch, referring to prime ministers he had dealt with, which got a big laugh in the courtroom:
They all hated the BBC and they all gave it whatever they wanted.
Lord Justice Leveson wonders why politicians wouldn't be interested in Murdoch's views on the BBC. Murdoch says he didn't care to talk to them about it. "I'd long since become disillusioned. It was a waste of time to talk to politicians about the BBC."
14:18 – Murdoch says he was much keener talking to politicians about Afghanistan. He was "dissatisfied" with Brown's answer that they were better protected than most European soldiers. "Our argument was that they should be better protected than the Americans." A thoughtful silence follows that.
14:19 – We're now moving on to the BSkyB bid. Murdoch, from his view in America, was worried that the independent directors of BSkyB were "driving up the price" to close to $13 billion. Jay suggests governments would be interested in bids of this sort. But Murdoch disagrees with that. "Ofcom had ruled we were in charge," he says, doing that slapping-hand-on-the-desk that seems to be a substitute shrug. Too much effort to lift the shoulders, presumably.
14:26 – A key passage taking place now, where Murdoch discusses the relationship between politicians and the media. Jay wonders whether there is a "political frisson" when it comes to business deals. Murdoch replies forcefully:
"I want to put it to bed once and for all, that is a complete myth – that I used the influence of the Sun or supposed political power to get favourable treatment."
He continues: "Of course they would like us to carry their views in a favourable way," Murdoch says. "I don't have any fealty to the Tory party or the Labour party," he adds, interrupting Jay. The QC is interested in the theme of the face-to-face meeting. "Some impressed me more than others and I meet them around the world and I could tell you one or two who have particularly impressed me." He's rambling a bit now, interrupting Jay yet again. "One looks at their personalities, their policies, their principles…" It's like talking to a really old man. Oh, wait…
14:32 – Jay wants to know whether the BSkyB bid and Murdoch's support for Cameron were in any way "linked in your mind"? "None at all," Murdoch says. What about if the Tories had lost – that would have hit the bid, wouldn't it? "No, I never gave it any thought," Murdoch replies. "The two things were not linked at all." Jay points out that advisers in the UK are briefing Murdoch on the current political situation all the time. "You talk about them as advisers," Murdoch replies. "I would call them senior executives, but yes."
14:40 – Murdoch's relations with the SNP are next. The Scottish Sun backed the nats in 2002 but turned against them in 2007, Jay says. Murdoch doesn't really remember. His relationship with Alex Salmond improved after 2007, Jay suggests, as after a long period without any contact they began keeping in contact again. They work their way through various meetings agonisingly slowly. This is tortuous stuff, to be honest. Right now, Murdoch says he has a "warm" relationship with Salmond.
14:46 – We have just discovered that Rupert Murdoch did NOT go to a play in New York which Alex Salmond recommended that Murdoch see, called 'Black Watch'. What a shock for the Scottish first minister that is. On the issue of independence – and here this is obviously more interesting – Rupert Murdoch can't seem to remember why he backed the SNP in 2007, but remained neutral on the issue of independence. "It's a little emotional, but I am attracted by the idea. But I am not convinced. I thought – let's see how he performs."
14:49 – Murdoch seems as bored at this line of questioning as I am, to be frank. He thinks independence is a "nice idea", and that's just about that.
14:51 – "I'm starting to flag," Jay admits. "I think we've probably had enough today," Leveson says. That's it – we're finished for the day. Rupert Murdoch, a very sprightly 81, gets the rest of the afternoon off. His hopes to wrap this up in just one day have been dashed, that's for sure. Given what Jay said early on this morning, it looks like we've got past the 'political chronology' bit of his agenda.
15:53 – Today the Leveson inquiry's QC, Jay, was picking out the themes of Murdoch's control over his British newspapers. It was about power – how he wields the influence of his newspapers, how politicians jump to his command, and how he uses that power over them to control public policy issues himself. Murdoch denied most of the implications of this carefully, but by building up a general picture of so many years of controversy it's not clear whether his nay-saying – forthright though it was – will be sufficient to dissuade Leveson from making judgements about his influence.
15:56 – Tomorrow is going to be where the real headlines come from, though. According to Jay's agenda we still have phone-hacking and 'general issues' to come. Sounds like there might be something newsworthy in that, it seems… so join my colleague Ian Dunt tomorrow at 10 for the resumption. For now, though, I'm off to gently subside in a corner somewhere in parliament. Or write about elected mayors. Or something. Thanks for following.