Coffee House

A day like no other

13 July 2011

3:20 PM

13 July 2011

3:20 PM

Was there ever a PMQs like this? The mood was like a revolutionary court. On the central
issue – the judge-led inquiry into the hacking affair – there was general agreement. But the doors of justice have been flung open at last and hosts of other crimes are rushing in to
receive an airing.

Ed Miliband arrived convinced that he had a killer question for Cameron. Assuming his favourite expression of indignant piety he asked about a specific warning given to Cameron’s chief of
staff last February that Andy Coulson, when News of the World editor, had hired an ex-convict to bribe the cops. The effect was feeble rather than fatal. ‘It wasn’t some secret stash of
information,’ said Cameron. ‘Almost all of it had been published in Guardian that February.’ The chief of staff, Cameron went on, hadn’t even passed the warning up the line.
Miliband seized on this a bit too eagerly. ‘The prime minister has just made a very important admission,’ he said ominously, like the class prefect announcing that he’s discovered
who broke the pencil sharpener.

What did Cameron propose to do about his errant chief of staff? The PM replied by raising the wider issue. ‘The public wants us to deal with this firestorm’ and ‘to clean the
stables’. This activated an even more pungent burst of rectitude from the Labour leader. ‘He just doesn’t get it,’ he said. This is not a great line to use. So he used it
again. He called on Cameron to apologise for his ‘catastrophic error’ in hiring Andy Coulson. This the PM swatted aside. ‘Where was the public inquiry over the last ten
years?’ he asked.


Ed Miliband, though impressive last week, seemed full of calculated hypocrisy today. This crisis isn’t doing him as much good as everyone claims. Too often he seems like an undertaker at a
road-smash earnestly mouthing his sorrow while counting corpses on his concealed fingers.

Backbench questions simmered with acrimony and ill-temper. Speaker Berkow, shrieking ‘Order! Order!’ at the disorder, veered between losing control of the house and losing control of
himself. Margaret Hodge stood up and accused the prime minister of blocking key information over the re-commissioning of aircraft carriers. Cameron’s pleasure at this question disconcerted
her. He’d be delighted, he said, to appear before her committee and reveal the delays, foul-ups and bunglings of Labour’s administrators when they ran the procurement budget.
‘Name the day!’ he yelled gleefully.

Tory MP Graham Stuart asked the prime minister to look into Labour’s involvement in Lord Ashcroft’s treatment by the Times. He used language which most of us assume is banned in
parliament, referring explicitly to ‘a criminal conspiracy at the highest levels of the last government.’ On a normal day that accusation would prompt calls for a withdrawal and receive
a big splash across tomorrow’s front pages. But such was the rowdiness of the session that it merely raised the decibel-level a couple of notches. Another Tory, Gavin Barwell, used coded
language to bring up Gordon Brown’s claim that he’d tried to establish a judicial inquiry into the blagging of his son’s medical records. Had Cameron ‘inherited any work on
that?’ Mr Barwell asked mildly. Translation: ‘Gordon lied’. The PM’s answer, ‘I inherited no work’, seems to affirm that Brown has indeed had been fibbing. And
about his own son’s medical condition too! Again, in normal circs, that would make headlines.

More was to come. And far deadlier. Tom Watson, in what my turn out to be the year’s most memorable utterance, asked the prime minister whether the phones of 9/11 victims had been hacked.
‘And would he raise the matter with his counterparts in the USA?’ That little dagger is aimed at the heart of Murdoch’s empire in America. That it may prove fatal is a prospect no
one would bet against. Not today anyway.

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Show comments
  • Neil Anderson

    Miliband’s posturing with the Dowlers is very poor but you let Cameron off lightly over Coulson. The reason that the Guardian could not publish the truth about coulson back in Feb was due to ongoing criminal cases. Guardian has an article by Rusbridger on this. Cameron would have know this, and would have thought he could tough it out anyway. DC not coming out well at all from this, his refusal to admit an error over Coulson could end up following him for years.

  • Nicholas

    As the petulant Bercow shrieks impotently he demonstrates the classic situation where neither the man nor his rank is respected.

    No dignity, no gravitas, no objective impartiality to earn respect. This bad-tempered and self-satisfied runt dishonours the post of Speaker.

  • Old Fox

    Yes – but to look at the Beeb’s reporting on its ten o’clock news, you’d think Millipede had triumphed. The Beeb has lunged like a shark at this one, hoping to damage the government. The moment Labour starts bleeding heavily, other “issues” will doubtless shimmer up the agenda.

  • Sean Haffey

    I was already quite enjoying reading this piece when I came across this priceless line:

    “like the class prefect announcing that he’s discovered who broke the pencil sharpener”

    Brilliant and deadly writing. Quote of the day, week, month or year.

  • Foundavoice

    Lloyd – an exception piece of reporting. Well done sir!

  • ButcombeMan

    Red Ed is and was, pathetic. That does not excuse Cameron. Fact is he HAS been behind the curve. Moreover he should NEVER EVER have employed Coulson, warnings getting to him or not.

    The danger signals were there to see. He should not have needed warnings. He needed common sense.

    Moreover he should NOT have been kissing and cuddling up to Rebekah. If he took advice from Osborne he should have remebered yachts and Russians.

    Does Cameron have anyone round him who tells him the truth and is wise in the ways of the world. It seems not. Winged but (just about) still flying is Cameron. A very close shave.

  • Axstane

    I think I heard Brown describe News International as the largest press organisation in Britain. The BBC employs 7,000 reporters we are told. The News of the World by contrast had 200 employees so any sort of calculation that one can do would tell us that the BBC is probably as big as all of the rest put together.

    And, I agree. the Twittering of PMQs was rubbish and incomprehensible as twits tend to be.

  • annassasin

    Can anyone expand on ” fibbing about his son’s condition” bit

  • mitcheltj

    “Too often he seems like an undertaker at a road-smash earnestly mouthing his sorrow while counting corpses on his concealed fingers.”

    What a brilliant turn of phrase, Lloyd! Good stuff.

  • The Oncoming Storm

    I think it was Moshe Dayan who once said the the Palestineans “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” I think after today you can add Milli into that category!

  • RCE

    J H Holloway is onto something. I would go further, and say that the left always – always – bugger it up in the end; au fond, this is down to the combination of stupidity (you have to be stupid to be a leftie) and that they are more prone to emotive responses rather than rationality. I also think that Brown’s intervention will be regarded as the turning point.

    But the BBC will pitch all its resources into stopping the backlash against its beloved Labour party. The stage may be set for a showdown.

  • Paddy

    Why is Gordon Brown grandstanding in the House of Commons? He has completely “flipped”.

    It is a disgrace the way he has taken over the Commons…..with Bercow’s full approval.

    Why don’t the Government walk out?



  • James Murphy

    What’s this? Wit, biting simile? Satire? Is this allowed in the Spectator? I think we should (not) be told. Bravo Lloyd Evans!

  • Sacre Bleu

    Sorry about the last comment but really this is becoming all very repetitive. Why are people not going for the Guardian and the BBC for their apparent complicity in manipulating the so called news. Are they really so untouchable or will nobody listen if they are put into the spotlight?
    Small point – How the hell did Vaz get the chairman job with his track record in the House?

  • Chris

    What The Engineer said. DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN, YOU BAD BOYS.

  • Sacre Bleu

    Twitter? cross between a Tw*t and a Sh**ter

  • strapworld

    At last a fair assessment of PMQ’s. Mr Forsyth take note please.

    I believe the Judge led enquiry, where witnesses will be under oath and therefore subject to threat of perjury, is going to be a trap for Labour. Just think of the payback for them all from the News International witnesses, the civil service and the Information Commissioner to name just three area’s. Then you have to look at Labour themselves. They will be like ferrets in a sack!

  • Mark Cannon

    The “he just doesn’t get it line” was so predictable. Mr Miliband needs a better scriptwriter.

  • Liz Brown

    i don’t normally agree with Lloyd Evans’ take on PMQ but he is spot on with this one – Millipede showed again that he either doesn’t listen to the answers he is given, is just too stupid to think on his feet or a fatal combination of both
    I don’t like Peter Hoskins “new look”………dont try this again, please

  • Archibald

    I missed the show today, but I enjoyed your piece Lloyd, and having criticized before it’s only fair I say so.

    Fraser commented on Coffeehousers recently (has it really been 300 years – how time flies), and perhaps(!!) some of us are guilty of being what an 18th century observer described as ‘orators [who] daily strain their throats for the interest of Christendom, and judiciously distribute their deep ignorance and conjectures, to such as sit around them.’

    Some things never change. Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m off to Starbucks to start a fight.

  • REPay

    I think there is a real danger of the politicians seriously misjudging the mood of the country. When politicians have spent us into a terible state and little seems to be getting done about public finances. This whole issue seems like a tribal onanistic orgy where the politicians are at their most comfortable – scoring debating points on things that don’t really matter that much.

  • Baron

    plague on them all

  • ollie

    Miliband reverted back to his “Son of Brown” routine today – his attempt at tribal point scoring against a very serious backdrop was alarmingly shrill – and lightweight. He made a bit of a fool of himself today.

    Cameron admittedly has struggled over the last week – but he showed today that he is a real force when he’s under pressure.

    Normality has been resumed.

  • The Engineer

    Off topic, I’m afraid but as there is no comment section following today’s PMQ blog, I’ll add one here.

    Begin Rant

    The new format is dreadful – IT DOES NOT WORK!!!

    please do not attempt it again.

    The comments are disjointed and there is no narrative, I tried to read it but could not be bothered.

    I may have said this before (if not I should have done) the inventor of Twitter should be shot – it appears to be a system for those with a 3 second attention span.

    If the feeble-minded wish to use it that is their right, I suppose, but DO NOT impose it on those of us with fully-functional brains.

    End Rant.

    Now that feels a bit better.

  • El Sid

    Err Lloyd, you’re way way behind the curve on the US angle, that’s been boiling away for a few days now. Hell, it’s already been covered by Jon Stewart : and Senator Rockefeller has raised it as an issue. You know you’re in trouble when a Rockefeller starts questioning your business ethics…

  • SJH

    The misspelling of “Berkow” is quite apt

  • and I’ll go to bed at noon


    Even in terms of political discourse, I think the Simpsons wins. Have you ever heard anything as ingenious as “abortions for some, miniature American flags for others” in the Commons? 😀

  • Russell

    Miliband was truly pathetic once he started raving on about Coulson, showing yet again his true character (lack of character). Opportunistic points scoring attempt instead of sincerity towards grieving families. Even his futile pathetic voice with his ‘he doesn’t get’ stupid phrase was a joke.

    Labour are on a sticky wicket after over 10 years of fawning with Murdoch, refusing to have any public enquiry about hacking, whilst apparently being fully aware of it.
    Labour record of smears, lies, deceipt and corruption will blow up as a result of the forthcoming enquiry.
    Imagine Blair/Brown/Mandelson/Campbell etc. under oath in front of a proper judge (not like the Chilcot cover up).

    Miliband and the stupid baying labour MP’s have finished the labour party once these procedings are completed.

  • Verity

    I wish we could have more Lloyd Evans.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    And will it lead to the end of the symbiotic relationship between the media and the politicians? Will it eckerslike. What an air of sanctimony and hypocrisy. It stinks.

    And I still prefer the Simpsons to PMQs.

  • J H Holloway

    Ah, the last session before the end of Parliament.

    A strategic mistake by the Guardian. Although sitting on the Milly Dowler allegations until just before the BskyB deal was due to go through has worked brilliantly well, the stage for attacking the government and Cameron is about to be closed.

    Tom Watson’s attempt to push this story across to America – via that favoured method of the Left, completely unsourced and unsupported allegations – will only result in Labour-supporting papers being nailed and The Sun opening the vaults on the Rupe/New Labour era.

    As usual with the Left, they never know when to stop when they are ahead. They always end up overcooking it.

  • prc

    Brilliant piece of reporting.