Ed Miliband led on the economy at PMQs. But he was only warming himself up for the main event. Leveson dominated proceedings.
David Cameron lamented the ‘disappointing’ news that the country has slipped back into negative growth. ‘It’s all bluster,’ crowed Miliband. ‘His plan has
failed.’ This recession was made in Downing Street, he said, by an ‘arrogant Prime Minister and his Chancellor’. It was potent, punchy stuff from the Labour leader. And he was
helped by Ed Balls who has clearly been ordered to clam up during PMQs. Instead of wriggling and calling out names, Balls sat there motionless and mute. His stony glare added to the pressure on the
Cameron was certainly feeling it today. When Miliband moved to the ‘political disaster’ of Jeremy Hunt, Cameron tried to flip back to the economy. A sure sign of desperation. He was
happier to re-announce the recession than to discuss his Culture Secretary.
Miliband goaded him gleefully about yesterday’s revelations. The Culture Secretary, he said, was supposed to be acting impartially while he and his office were giving out ‘flows of
confidential information [about News Corp’s bid for BskyB]’. Did this, Miliband wondered, suggest a transparent, impartial manner? Cameron had no answer. The cupboard was bare. ‘I
set up this inquiry,’ he boasted lamely, ‘and the terms of reference were agreed by the leaders of the other parties… and to step in and prejudge the inquiry would be
Miliband burst out laughing. Not theatrically. He was genuinely amused by the weakness of Cameron’s defence. When he stood up he assumed his most solemn frown. ‘Lord Leveson is
responsible for a lot of things,’ he intoned gravely, ‘but not for the integrity of the government’. For once, his piety struck the right note. ‘If the Prime Minister
can’t defend the conduct of his ministers they should be out the door.’
Cameron offered ‘full support’ to Hunt and added that the minister would account for himself in the House and at the inquiry. But it wasn’t enough. And Cameron knew it. His
arguments were insubstantial. And his body language projected frailty and unease. Amid jeers and catcalls from Labour’s massed ranks he stood there, with a forced smile on his face, like a
man who’s opened the wrong door in a hotel. Miliband took full advantage.
‘While the culture secretary remains in place’, he said, ‘the shadow of sleaze will hang over this government.’
That deadly little word. It can chill Tory blood in an instant. It kept them out of office for 13 years.
With Miliband’s attack over, Cameron relaxed. His chore now was to listen to the orchestrated insults of Labour’s backbenchers. Arrogant and dismissive, they called him. Out of touch.
‘Same old Tories.’ One accused him of ‘cosying up to News Corp’. And he responded with a contrite smile. ‘On all sides,’ he admitted genially,
‘there’s a need for a hand-on-heart. We all did too much cosying up to Rupert Murdoch.’
Nothing went right for Cameron today. Ian McKenzie (Lab, Inverclyde) asked if he agreed with Nadine Dorries’s comment that he and his Chancellor are ‘posh boys showing no sign of
‘I agree with the member for mid-Bedfordshire,’ he replied with an odd smirk, ‘about many, many things.’ Then he sat down. The punch line was that there was no punch line.
It didn’t come off.
To add to his woes, he was fed an easy question about tackling the deficit by Stephen Hammond (Con, Wimbledon). It’s come to something when a backbencher has to advertise an economic slump to
give the PM a boost.
When Blair was against the ropes, he seemed to relish it. The struggle brought out something in him that he admired. But Cameron shows no such enthusiasm for being pummelled in the Commons.
That makes his dilemma trickier: he must either junk Hunt or face weeks more of this.Tags: Conservatives, David Cameron, Economy, Ed Miliband, Jeremy Hunt, Labour, Leveson inquiry, Nadine Dorries, PMQs, UK politics