I want to continue with my argument that the roots of the current Conservative travails lie with the Tory leadership's choice to address the tactical and branding elements of Conservative modernisation, and not in a meaningful way engage with the policy agenda to deliver such.
Mind you, I suspect that the revelations at the Leveson inquiry about the contacts between the Culture Secretary and News Corporation will make discussion of of the budget fairly redundant for a little while.
A few quick points on this: First – the belief that the Conservative party needed to impress News Corp was a strong one. But why? Ironically, the argument was that Murdoch had been unimpressed by Cameron's political lightness and policy-light approach to politics. Murdoch didn't feel the Cameron reform agenda was particularly meaningful. Indeed, given the traumas the Labour government was going through, it was pretty remarkable that the Sun only threw it's support behind the Conservative party in September 2009.
Second, the endorsement came a long two years after the hiring of Andy Coulson as Cameron's comms director. It must have been extremely frustrating for the Conservatives not to have the support of the Sun while the Labour government was on life support. As Jeremy Hunt was Shadow Culture and Media Secretary throughout this period, he would surely have been acquainted with the stance his leader took in opposition on Newscorp issues. (and would also have been very aware of the fact that most of the senior figures in NewsCorp were close to his leader in both personal and political terms). That desire to "work towards the leader" would undoubtedly have continued in office.
(This is part of the reason Labour should not be too triumphal about the government's current difficulties. Does anyone believe that there were no contacts between No 10 and NewsCorp between June 2007 and September 2009 in order to retain the possibility of support? I find that hard to imagine. )
Finally, while there is no evidence to support a causal link between a positive stance on the BSkyB bid and the Sun's endorsement, it might be hinted that Cameron's inability to impress Murdoch in his first years as leader meant that he subsequently had to go further than he might have liked to show that Murdoch should support the Tories.
If I'm right, and Cameron and Osborne are primarily tactical and transactional politicians, this might have involved a willingness to consider ownership issues as points of leverage. Consider the reverse: while Blair went out of his way to impress Murdoch, he also held several clear red lines – He never wavered in his pro-Europeanism, for example, nor did Brown accept Murdoch attitudes to regulation and tax. There certainly seems to have been a sense at NewsCorp that a Labour government would have followed a lengthy process of referral and ajudication on any bid, something they had a commercial interest in avoiding, if possible.
To me, this storm again looks like eveidence of the dangers of putting short term tactical/political advantage ahead of making the key strategic choices that would force others to define themselves in relation to the fundamental position you've taken. On this reading the answer to the question "Why did the government stance on the competition commission matter so much?" is because that was the terms of trade between two sets of trasactional, tactical operators.
I stress though, that I doubt this will end up redounding to any great credit to my own party. While I doubt Labour would have courted NewsCorp on the same grounds the tories did, we would have been foolish to not try and find a working relationship with their editors, reporters and managers of a major media player. Nor, personally, do I think that is behaviour that a politician should be particularly embarrassed by. Politics and policy, though not public process, are fair game for debates between the media and politicians.