Five questions Leveson must ask George Osborne

After hiring Andy Coulson and hobnobbing with James Murdoch, the Chancellor has a lot of explaining to do

Column LAST UPDATED AT 07:33 ON Mon 11 Jun 2012

GEORGE OSBORNE has five key questions he must answer before the Leveson inquiry today - and they begin with why he advised David Cameron to hire Andy Coulson as his director of communications, despite the former News of the World editor being mired in the mobile phone hacking scandal.

Osborne has become a key witness in the Leveson inquiry into press ethics after it emerged that on the day that responsibility for adjudicating on the News Corp takeover of BSkyB was removed from Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable and handed to Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor sent a text message to the Culture Secretary, his Tory colleague, saying: "I hope you like our solution."
 
Robert Jay, the Leveson inquiry QC, is almost certain to ask Osborne Question 2: What exactly did he mean by that?

Jay is also likely to ask Osborne Question 3: Did he do a deal with News Corp? Was there a deal that, in return for Murdoch's papers going easy on the Government, Hunt would wave through the News Corp takeover bid for BSkyB.

Evidence so far to the Leveson inquiry has raised suspicions that Osborne - Cameron's political strategist - wanted News International "onside" before the General Election, whatever it took.

Leveson has heard about several private soirees between Osborne and Murdoch executives around the time of the takeover bid for BSkyB, including a party at Dorneywood, his grace-and-favour residence in Buckinghamshire, with Rebekah Brooks and her husband, Charlie, who both now face charges of perverting the course of justice in the phone hacking inquiry. Coulson was also among the guests.
 
Osborne is also likely to be quizzed about the report in the Observer yesterday by Toby Helm that Osborne met the News International team including ex-executive chairman James Murdoch and Brooks, the former News International chief executive, in a chalet at the Davos economic summit in January 2010.

Which brings us to Question 4: Why was Osborne so keen on schmoozing with Brooks and co while the Murdoch bid was going on?
 
The Chancellor will face more awkward questions in a Dispatches programme tonight by Daily Telegraph commentator Peter Oborne about a conflict of evidence between Coulson and Cameron over the way Coulson was hired.

Coulson told the Leveson inquiry that he was only asked once by Cameron for assurances that he knew nothing about phone hacking. Cameron - who is to give evidence on Thursday - told the Commons on 13 July 2011 he had conversations on "many occasions" about this with Coulson and each time was given an assurance that Coulson knew nothing of the illegal goings-on at the paper he once edited.

Oborne, in The Daily Telegraph today, says either Coulson misled Leveson (and Cameron) or Cameron misled Parliament, which could be a resignation offence.

Osborne must have asked the same questions of Coulson before he advised Cameron to hire him.

Question 5: So who is telling the truth Mr Osborne?

While that is plenty for the Mole to get his little teeth into, Gordon Brown will provide the hors d'oeuvres, by giving evidence in the morning about whether he did a deal with the 'devil' in the shape of the Murdoch empire after he succeeded Blair as Labour Prime Minister.

Brooks has already told the inquiry he was furious and "extraordinarily aggressive" with her for publishing his handwritten letter to the mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan with his spelling errors including the boy's surname.

But that was after The Sun had ditched Labour for Cameron's Tories. Brooks told how she decided to announce The Sun was backing Cameron within hours of Brown's keynote speech to the Labour party annual conference, completely sabotaging Gordon's big day.

Worse, he was due to attend the News International reception that night. She tried to speak to him, but he refused to take her calls. Instead, Lord Mandelson rang her and called her something beginning with the letter 'C'. Brooks said Mandelson claimed it was 'chump'.
 
Either way, Gordon may have a lot to get off his chest. It's pay back time for Gordon Brown. ·