You have to hand it to MPs. He was asked no less than eleven times, by eleven different MPs, in a concerted attempt to nail him down. Frustrated by the PM’s repeated form of words (“no inappropriate” discussions), Graham Jones MP finally asked:
To which the answer was “You know-urgh!” – whatever that means.
In a nutshell, Cameron seemed to be saying that he did mention BSkyB to Brooks, Murdoch Snr, Murodch Jnr, but it was an appropriate mention. And what does “appropriate” mean? It means that such a mention could be repeated in front of a select committee and not deemed “inappropriate”. And what does that mean? Goodness knows.
The roll of honour of MPs who did try to extract a further drop of clarity from Cameron is:
Ed Miliband, Ben Bradshaw, Dennis Skinner, Mike Hancock, Chuka Umunna, Jeremy Corbyn, Barry Gardiner, Bill Esterson, Catherine McKinnell, Graham Jones and Sheila Gilmore.
David Cameron: …Next, there is the question of whether the ministerial code was broken in relation to the BSkyB merger and meetings with News International executives. The Cabinet Secretary has ruled very clearly that the code was not broken, not least because I had asked to be entirely excluded from the decision….
..Edward Miliband: Let me start with BSkyB. The Prime Minister said in his statement something that he has said on a number of occasions, which is that he was excluded from the “formal” decision-making process. With respect, that does not quite answer the questions that he has been asked. Last Friday, he revealed that since taking office he had met representatives of News International or News Corp, including Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch, on 26 separate occasions, so the first question that I have for him is whether he can assure the House that the BSkyB bid was not raised in any of those meetings or in phone calls with those organisations, and whether he can also say whether at any time he discussed the bid with the Culture Secretary or, indeed, with any of the Culture Secretary’s officials….
David Cameron….I feel, however, that the right hon. Gentleman wrote most of his questions before he heard my statement today. He asked about BSkyB. The Cabinet Secretary has said that there was no breach of the ministerial code. We heard the evidence of Rebekah Wade yesterday, saying that there was not one single inappropriate conversation. When it comes to setting out meetings with News Corporation, I should point out that I have set out every single meeting since the last election. The right hon. Gentleman published a list this morning, but it did not go back to the last election. Indeed, when are we going to see the transparency from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown?
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): In the Prime Minister’s conversations with the Murdochs, with Mrs Brooks and other News Corp people, was there ever any mention of the BSkyB bid?
The Prime Minister: As Rebekah Brooks said yesterday in Parliament, there was never a conversation that could have been held, in front of the Select Committee. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman asks me to answer the question—perhaps he will now be transparent, as he was Culture Secretary, about all of the contacts he has had with News International over many years. I have set out the clearest possible position; it is for others now to do the same thing.
Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): In the course of the past few minutes the Prime Minister has been asked a simple question twice and refused to answer it: as Prime Minister, did he ever discuss the question of the BSkyB bid with News International at all the meetings they attended?
The Prime Minister: I never had one inappropriate conversation, and let me be clear: I completely took myself out of any decision making about this bid. I had no role in it and I had no role in when the announcements were going to be made. That is the point. When the hon. Gentleman makes signals like that, I have to say—
Mr Speaker: Order. The House again needs to calm down. The question was properly heard and the Prime Minister’s answer must be properly heard.
The Prime Minister: I have answered the question and the point I would make is that unlike the party that the hon. Gentleman has been supporting for the last God knows how many years, this party has set out all its contacts, all its meetings and everything it did—in stark contrast to the Labour party.
Mr Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) (LD): Putting aside what is appropriate and what is inappropriate, will the Prime Minister just say whether or not, in the conversations that he had, the question of the BSkyB takeover was mentioned?
The Prime Minister: The point I am trying to make is this. I had no responsibility for the BSkyB takeover. I specifically asked to be taken out of any of the decision making and any of the information because I did not want to put myself in any sort of compromising position. I was very clear about that. So much so that I did not even know when many of the key announcements were being made. That is why Rebekah Brooks was quite able to say, at the House of Commons yesterday, that there was not a single conversation that could not have taken place in front of the Select Committee. I know that many people were hoping for some great allegation yesterday that could add to their fevered conspiracy theories. I am just disappointed for them that they did not get one.
Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): May I return to the responses the Prime Minister gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) and to the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Mr Hancock)? He said that he had had no inappropriate discussions with News International executives regarding the BSkyB bid. Which discussions did he have with the said executives that he deemed were appropriate, who were the executives and what were the contents of the discussions?
The Prime Minister: All those meetings are now published. The hon. Gentleman can look on the internet and see every single meeting that I had. Perhaps when he does that, he might ask his good friend the Leader of the Opposition why he does not do the same thing.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): May I give the Prime Minister another opportunity to say on what occasions, with whom and where, in the time since he became Prime Minister, he has ever discussed the Murdoch bid to take over BSkyB completely?
The Prime Minister: The discussion I had was to ensure that I was not involved in that decision, so I did not discuss it with the Culture Secretary, I did not know about the timing of many of the key announcements—I was not involved. That was the sensible thing to do—conduct in which my predecessors did not necessarily engage.
Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I welcome the Prime Minister’s transparency in making available the 26 meetings with News Corps and News International. I welcome the fact that he was able to say that no inappropriate conversations took place between him and BSkyB. Can he tell us that no appropriate conversations about the bid took place at those meetings also?
The Prime Minister: All my conversations are appropriate.
Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister define for us what he regards as an appropriate conversation between him and News International about BSkyB?
The Prime Minister: I thought Rebekah Brooks defined it excellently—one that you could also repeat in front of a Select Committee.
Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister tell the House the details of any appropriate conversations he had about the BSkyB bid, specifically with Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch on 23 December and with Rebekah Brooks on Boxing day 2010?
The Prime Minister: What I have done that no Prime Minister has done before is set out all the details of the meetings and explained that all the conversations were appropriate. That was backed up by Rebekah Brooks yesterday. If the hon. Lady wants to help, she could ask the leader of her party to be equally transparent, which he is not being at the moment.
Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): Has the Prime Minister ever uttered the word “BSkyB” in the presence of Rebekah Brooks, Rupert Murdoch or James Murdoch?
The Prime Minister: You know—urgh!
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Since being elected, constituents have contacted me regularly about the BSkyB takeover and their concerns about it, particularly about undertakings being given or offered by an organisation that has been proven to break its undertakings. At any point, did the Prime Minister discuss with anyone from News International the possibility of undertakings being given?
The Prime Minister: I have answered this question. I took myself out of the whole decision-making process on BSkyB. Having looked at what has happened, I would argue that the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport has taken a series of absolutely correct decisions on the basis of the legal information that he received.
Ed Miliband: There are unanswered questions about BSkyB. There are real questions about what conversations—important conversations—the Prime Minister had about BSkyB with James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks; he should have raised that. These questions are not going to go away. They will continue until he answers them.