Whatever your personal feelings on the News Corp / BSkyB takeover, and the way in which it has been (mis)handled by the Government, one aspect of today’s decision by Jeremy Hunt throws up a new opportunity for lobbyists everywhere.
Hunt has announced that, although he believes that Ofcom’s judgement that the deal should be referred to the Competition Commission is the right one, he will give the parties involved more time to lobby him to change his mind. Or, in the more stultified language of today’s written ministerial statement:
“I explained that I was minded to refer the case to the Competition Commission but that I would receive written, and if necessary oral, representations from them if they wanted to challenge my thinking.”
In setting this down so clearly in the official record, Hunt may be giving himself, his Government, and indeed future Ministers a very difficult hostage to fortune. For if Murdoch et al are so publically given permission to “challenge” the Government’s thinking on an issue before it reaches the competition regulators, why shouldn’t everyone else be allowed an officially-sanctioned rebuttal and lobbying phase before key decisions are taken which affect them? This could have implications not just for every decision on competition matters, but on pretty much any other policy decision that particularly affects a business, sector or lobby group.
Somewhere, possibly even in the office in which I type, a public affairs professional is already drafting a letter to a Minister, referring to today’s decision and demanding another chance to make their own case. And thus Mr Hunt has helpfully provided another arrow to the lobbyists’ armoury. Thanks, Jeremy.