PMQs: Miliband's Own Murdoch Man Stops Bloodbath

The Leader of the Opposistion was staring at an open goal, but held off for the absolute kill, writes our UK Political Editor Harry Cole

Miliband bruises but doesn't finish the PM off.
Harry Cole
On 6 July 2011 11:57

“Just because we can’t do everything, doesn’t mean we can’t do anything” said Ed Miliband as he preached to an invisible flock at his knees. And that would come to sum up this week's whole PMQs battle. Miliband could have gone for the absolute kill, yet he seemed to hold back at the brink.

Ed can’t do everything, he can barely get a TV appearance right, but even the most incompetent of politicians could have dribbled today's and planted it squarely in the back of the net. This was another hard outing for the Prime Minister, but one of his own doing. The phone-hacking scandal could be lethal for him.

The Prime Minister is close friends with the News International executives that are at the centre of this scandal, and there was pain in those eyes as Miliband rubbed in “how hard this is for him”. Straight out of the blocks Cameron clearly tried to unsettle the Leader of the Opposition by immediately agreeing to his demands for a public inquiry into this mess. However Miliband clearly saw this bear-trap coming and sidestepped.

On went the questions, a pious tone being adopted from the Leader of the Opposition, that apparently claimed to speak for the nation. Ed joined the dots, and blurred two issues, in the hope of confusing the public. Murdoch’s bid to buy all of BSkyB is opposed by Labour for reasons well beyond this current crisis at the News of the World.

Ed may have been trying to play some sort of statesman-like role in venting public outcry, but it was the wild howls of derision from the Labour benches that let the mask slip. The din was deafening as they jeered and heckled, not about the outrageous phone hacking of murder victims and their families, but at the prospect of a successful businessman rivaling the dominance of their sacred BBC.

Saving the most awkward to last, Miliband forced the ball into Cameron’s court and he markedly refused to call for Rebekah Brook’s sacking or resignation, leaving it in the hands of the police. It’s hard not to think if they were not close friends she would have been hung out to dry by now. Miliband did not push this though, he has his own complex relationship with Murdoch and has been going out of his way to try to gain at least a sympathetic hearing with News International (NI) papers.

It must not be forgotten that just as Cameron employed former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his spinner, Miliband has recruited another controversial figure from the NI stable, Tom Baldwin, to be his bruiser. If Miliband really wanted to declare war on Murdoch, now was the day to do it, yet he ended up faltering. 

It was going to be a win for Ed before a single shot was fired. Cameron was looking exhausted from his overnight return from the Afghan front, but was clever enough to realise going hard on the attack was not going to work. This could easily have been an annihilation, but ended up more like a 2-1 victory.

It was inconceivable that Cameron would have an easy ride today, but it would habe been a lot worse for the PM, had Miliband twisted the knife absolutely. The reigns of Tom Baldwin could be clearly felt. Labour will crow that Ed is on the way back and the voice of the people, but he will know deep down that whoever was standing where he was today would have won that battle. 

After an interesting bout between the leaders, once the backbenchers got involved it turned into one of the dullest PMQs in a long time. Even the Speaker was on his best behaviour.

Harry Cole in the UK Political Editor for The Commentator. He tweets at @MrHarryCole and is the News Editor for the infamous Guido Fawkes blog.

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