25 April 2012
So, this Mr Fred Michel fellow, as he is now being called by the Conservatives, is a just a lobbyist trying to impress his boss, James Murdoch, claiming access he never had.
The 163 pages of emails released today by the Leveson inquiry are, say defenders of Jeremy Hunt, just a PR man showing off.
The emails show that Hunt’s office was in regular contact with Michel. For example, one reads: “Managed to get some infos on the plans for tomorrow (although absolutely illegal!),” referring to intelligence they'd gathered on a parliamentary statement Hunt was due to make. Another shows that when Hunt cancels a meeting with James Murdoch because he has received "very strong legal advice not to meet us today as the current process is treated as a judicial one", Michel reports to his boss that he can still talk to him on his mobile phone "which is completely fine"
And the government's response? Tonight Downing Street is insisting that Michel’s emails reflect “a whole series of conversations that didn’t take place ”.
Remember the government's response to the previous lobbying scandal, the cash-for-access one involving Conservative co-treasurer Peter Cruddas. He claimed on film that that large cash payments could secure dinner with the prime minister and an opportunity to influence government policy. The government's response then was that it was a lot of bluster, that no one in the Number 10 policy unit ever met anyone at Peter Cruddas's request, and that Cruddas certainly had never been near Cameron's flat. Again, one man's boasts. Move on.
Or the scandal before that? The one involving lobbyists at Bell Pottinger again caught on film claiming access and influence with No10. A Downing Street spokesman came back with a familiar retort: "It is simply untrue to say that Bell Pottinger or any other lobbying company influences government". No truth to the claims of access and influence. Just more boasts.
What about the one before that? When attempts were made to paint Adam Werritty, the unofficial adviser-cum-lobbyist to now ex-defence secretary Liam Fox, as a Walter Mitty character, someone who indulged in fantasy, who "pretended he was something he wasn't". Another deluded lobbyist.
Will they try it again? Probably. Or will they finally face the fact that we have a problem with lobbying in this country and actually do something about it. Who knows.