PMQs: The tectonic plates shift

Oh, what a joy to be Leader of the Opposition at times like these!

Prime Minister’s Questions today was certainly one of the most important this year. David Cameron has been in a sort of partial purdah for the last few days, no doubt preparing his answers. What we got was quite a substantial exposition of the response to what I’ll call, for the purposes of brevity, “Murdochgate”.

The exchange between Cameron and Miliband started with a large degree of agreement. Indeed, it was almost as if the PM had pulled the rug from under the Leader of the opposition by belatedly agreeing to everything he has been demanding:

Rebekah Brooks to go? Yes – her resignation should have been accepted, said Cameron.

Link to the BSkyB bid? Yes, said Cameron. It is “not possible” to separate the scandal from the BSkyB bid. That’s new from the government. “Disgraceful” was the description Cameron posited about the scandal.

Call on Murdoch to drop the bid? Yes, said Cameron.

Amend laws if necessary? Yes, said Cameron.

Then Miliband moved in for the red meat. First, there was a waspish aside referring to the Leader of the House leading the debate on Murdochgate this afternoon. Poor Georgie Young. Second, we got to Andy Coulson, and the information about his employment of Jonathan Rees which was passed, by the Guardian, to David Cameron’s chief of staff. ‘What happened to that information?’, asked Miliband.

We then got to a statement from Cameron which probably went through about twelve drafts:

He hired a tabloid editor. Coulson gave him assurances that he was not involved in criminality. He also gave those assurances to the police, a court of law and a select committee. Then we got to the substantial bit: Cameron said that if Coulson had lied to him (Cameron) then he also lied under oath to a court, to the police and to the Commons, so he would be subject to a criminal prosecution if that is the case. Serious stuff. But he added a reminder of the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”.

Cameron said that the Guardian information was not passed onto him. But he said it was not “some secret stash of information” and had already been published. The Guardian’s editor has already been tweeting furious responses to Cameron’s explanation. Cameron was also later reminded by Miliband that the Deputy Prime Minister and Paddy Ashdown had warned him not to employ Coulson at Number Ten. I think we will be hearing more of this.

Miliband then flunked his response. He asked “What information he proposes to take towards his Chief of Staff?” Oh dear. He let Cameron off the hook a bit there. Wrong word.

Cameron replied, basically, with four words: “Tom Baldwin” and “Damien McBride”. “The public wants us to rise above this”, he said. No it doesn’t. You want us to rise above this, Mr Cameron.

We then got one of Ed Miliband’s top ten catchphrases: “He just doesn’t get it”. He finished strongly saying that Cameron should publish a full account of what he did and what he knew in the process of the hiring of Andy Coulson at Number Ten. He said that Cameron should apologise for his “catastrophic error of judgment in hiring Andy Coulson”. Quite powerful that.

Cameron ended by saying the old line about Labour having had ten years to sort out this mess. But it was rather pathetic. Cameron prepared all this very well and make a good fist of a bad hand (if that’s possible). But basically he is paying dearly for his stupidity in hiring Andy Coulson some years ago.

Duncan Hames (LibDem) asked a very powerful first question listing the elements of Murdochgate and asking if this is a “fit and proper person”. Cameron agreed with Hames’ thrust.

The Speaker got quite strong after the Cameron/Miliband spat. He told the “Children’s Minister” to “calm down or get out”. Strong stuff. The Children’s Minister is Tim Loughton. After a bit more shouting, the Speaker actually named the man. It appears that Mr Loughton was smiling. The Speaker said “This is not funny. Only in your mind, Mr Loughton, is it funny”. Naming a member is the Speaker’s equivalent of firing a nuclear weapon. I can’t remember a minister being named by the speaker before. Can you? This happened on the same day as an Opposition motion is to go through “on the nod” – the first time in living memory, I’m told.

We are witnessing the shifting of the tectonic plates of the UK’s democracy. Today in the Commons is in many ways historic.

Paul Walter blogs on Liberal Burblings

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This entry was posted in PMQs.


  • Liberal Neil 13th Jul '11 - 1:11pm

    I thought Cameron handled it well, particularly his comment that Coulson should be prosecuted if he is shown to have lied.

    Maybe I just don’t ‘get’ Ed Miliband, but he just doesn’t come across with any gravitas to me, and almost always comes across as a fake.

  • Good point about Loughton and the Speaker. I felt quite unnerved with the naming.

  • David Pollard 13th Jul '11 - 2:34pm

    Cameron would not have given in so easliy if it had not been for the LibDems

  • gramsci's eyes 13th Jul '11 - 4:28pm

    The tectonic plates shift

    Not on this moribund site they won’t.

    Why, probably because you pull comments as you will probably pull this one.

    Is the reason for these deletions about abuse. No , it is for the ever so liberal reason of you don’t like dissent.

    This site is no better than the vain attempts by the SUN to censor their discussion boards.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 13th Jul '11 - 5:31pm

    @gramsci’s eyes. The comments policy is here:

  • Paul

    We know what the policy _says_. But that doesn’t stop LDV deleting all manner of comments that are in no way either abusive or off-topic. It’s a joke.

  • Andrew Suffield 13th Jul '11 - 7:24pm

    you don’t like dissent

    If you want dissent, just go to the Labour sites. They disagree with everything.

    And if you look in the comments policy, you’ll find there’s nothing about dissent. There are simply two big rules, which you don’t seem to have grasped.

    Why, probably because you pull comments as you will probably pull this one.

    Most likely (actually this whole exchange will probably get removed), because it violates the first of them: your comment has got absolutely nothing to do with PMQs, and hence is offtopic.

    (The other big one is: don’t claim to be somebody you aren’t, or post anonymously and then claim to be somebody)

  • Barry George 13th Jul '11 - 10:30pm

    @ gramsci’s eyes
    Why, probably because you pull comments as you will probably pull this one.

    Is the reason for these deletions about abuse. No , it is for the ever so liberal reason of you don’t like dissent.

    Strange, I am ashamed of our coalition with the Tories, I am disgusted with the party leadership and I must have said so at least 100 times on this site.

    My dissent is here to be seen and I have rarely been censored. On the one occasion that a comment was not allowed through I found the moderators to be most candid and helpful in their email correspondence. If your comments are not getting through and they are within the clear lines of the moderation policy then I would suggest you email the site.

    I have much to be angry about and I say it often. I find that the site is flexible with its moderation policy if you refrain from ad hominems.

    Finding anyone who is pro coalition to come out from the safety of the Members (echo chamber) forum and respond politely and logically to genuine and courteous dissent…. well that’s another subject…

  • John Roffey 14th Jul '11 - 4:50am

    As an ex member who has been quite ferocious in my condemnation of the direction the Party is currently following, I am not aware of having any of my comments altered.

    It seems to me the comments policy is followed reasonably fairly.

  • Can anyone explain why Cameron was prepared to give Coulson a “second chance” but not prepared to give Vince Cable one when he declared that he was waging war on Murdoch?

    The greatest parliamentray occasion for years when the worms turned on their tormentor and yet Cameron and Clegg were nowhere to be seen? Is the coalition actually being led by anyone at the moment?

  • I am not at all convinced that Murdoch has been chastened in any way – it seems that the process of redemption has already began – and aided by Cameron.

    Firstly we had the stage managed close down of the NOW – which seems to have achieved its purpose of convincing everyone that over the the last three years, under new management – it was pure as the driven snow and that the staff made redundant – innocent victims.

    Secondly, last night a Newsnight focus group demonstrated one of the panelist’s [Danny Finklestein’s – Times journalist] view that the people were neither shocked nor surprised by the revelations – they simply do not trust politicians – so corrupt behaviour by their representitives does not surprise them in the slightest. DF’s view that the matter will be forgotten by the public in weeks seemed justified.

    Thirdly, also on Newsnight, Louise Mensch [Tory] raised the issue that the Daily Mail had used similar hacking tactics to find out details of her divorce – thereby indicating that the Murdoch titles were no worse than the others and implying he should not be singled out for discriminated.

    Fourthly, the New York Times reports that Murdoch’s withdrawal of the bid is simply tactical and will renew his attempt once that the fuss has died down.

    It seems to me that if he can avoid a serious investigation in the US [if it can be proven that 9/11 victims were hacked this would probably be enough to start such an investigation] he will still be successful, although he might have to sacrifice his other newspaper titles before he finally succeeds.

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