Cross-posted from Liberal Democrat Voice
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.