PMQs – David Cameron learns a lesson from ‘Robo’-band

Ed Miliband may still have some distance to go to convince anyone that he’s capable of delivering a Parliamentary majority, but it already looks as if he’s travelled a respectable distance from his previous Commons disasters.

The focus of this week’s PMQs was the News of the World ‘phone hacking’ scandal, and the result was a strangely subdued exchange between the two major party leaders – at least at first. How, after all, can you try and generate political capital from the hacking of a murder victim’s phone?

PMQs

Ed Miliband is improving - but is it quick enough? Photograph: PA: Guardian

That said, let nobody be in any doubt that Cameron had a difficult half an hour. If he had hoped to neuter any questioning by agreeing with Miliband’s call for a public inquiry, he was disappointed. Any public inquiry, he argued, would need to wait until the police had conducted their own investigation, and his repetition of this caveat prompted wonderful memories of the cringe worthy Ed Miliband School of Rhetoric from last week.

It was never going to wash. An acquiescence to the inquiry ‘just not right now’ was sure to be picked up on, and Mr. Miliband insisted that “It is possible for the Prime Minister to start the process now”. The job was done – and the press would surely be covering Mr. Cameron’s promised inquiry with gusto – but the pressure kept piling on, with the questioning moving to whether News International’s acquisition of BSkyB should be referred to the Competition Commission as a result of these events.

Mr. Cameron’s assertion that the government had followed “the correct legal processes” wasn’t enough to deflect this line of questioning. It made it all too easy fo Mr. Miliband to imply that following the letter of the law wasn’t good enough, and to explicitly state that “that answer was out of touch with millions of people”. Cue cheers from the Labour benches, and a repeated appeal from the Prime Minister not to interfere with the police investigation. Mr. Cameron’s eventual response, that Mr. Miliband had “done a U-turn in order to try and look good in the Commons” hit for little effect.

The Labour leader slipped up – saying that “this is not the time for technicalities” – and was met with much merriment from the Conservatives, but in truth they hadn’t seen too much to be happy about on the day. Mr. Miliband wasn’t embarrassing himself, as he has done before, and he had every intention of delivering his final two questions.

He asked whether Mr. Cameron thought Rebekah Brooks, current CEO of News International, should resign. “First let me deal with this issue of technicalities” responded the Prime Minister. It was a transparent evasion of the question which teed the Leader of the Opposition up for his coup de grâce, citing Mr. Cameron’s “catastrophic error of judgement in bringing Andy Coulson into the heart of his Downing Street regime.” Coulson, a figure at the heart of the media ethics scandal, was Director of Communications under David Cameron until earlier this year. Cameron may have been intending to appear resolute when he stated that he took “full responsibility for everyone I employ, for everyone I appoint”, but it is incredibly doubtful that the press will report it that way. Forlorn, hopeless or confessional are words more likely to be deployed.

Ed Miliband may be sitting on a lead in the polls, and may have drastically improved his performance in PMQs, but there is a difference between embarrassing the Prime Minister and beating him. David Cameron had a difficult day at the office, but Labour MPs will still be wondering whether they can imagine their leader’s downbeat style – likened to Eeyore by Alex Stevenson of politics.co.uk – coming from the other side of the despatch box.

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Posted on July 7, 2011, in Prime Minister’s Question Time and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Its not just the south that you have to win back Luke. The midlands, the east and west is neraly all tory.With electoral reform on its way I can’t see Labour making many gains in the South at all.All you can hope for is that the lib dem voter moves to Labour in 4 years time.

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