PMQs: Cameron begins fightback, but Miliband stings

Cameron was rattled today, but just about held his own. However, his Achilles heel was exposed.

Cameron looked rattled halfway through
Harry Cole
On 13 July 2011 10:05

A sober scene was set by the first question from David Cameron’s own side: after days of avoiding the questions, the Prime Minister was in at the deep end.

For his part, the Leader of the Opposition started out by playing a straight bat, having clearly been briefed not to gloat about the good week he’s been having. Everyone had their best ties on, knowing the world’s media would be keeping a close eye on today’s developments.

There was talk of cleaning stables and sorting out messes. Last night’s “excellent” cross party talks dominated the beginning of the exchange. Ed was holding off so much that for a while it looked as though it was in danger of turning into a bit of a love-in. It was all “we’ve, we’ve, we’ve”.

And then the tone changed dramatically. Just after Miliband had thanked the Prime Minister for the 456th time for giving straight answers, Ed went on the attack.

For the first time, Cameron was forced, finally, to acknowledge that he did “need to give a very full....” account of what he knew and when regarding his former Director of Communications, one time News of the World editor turned police suspect Andy Coulson.

And here was the oh-so-carefully crafted line: “If I was lied to, if police were lied to, if a select committee was lied to, it would be a matter of deep regret and require criminal prosecution,” the prime minister said.

He also, crucially, conceded that information known by other staff members was apparently not passed up the ladder to him. Not only was Cameron finally distancing himself from Coulson, but it has started to look as though he is now ready to shift the blame to his most loyal advisers.

The important issue that he did not address is why strategy-guru Steve Hilton, who was featured on The Commentator yesterday, and chief of staff Ed Llewellyn did not tell him what the Guardian had told them about Coulson's contacts with convicted criminal Jonathan Rees.

This is Cameron’s Achilles heel in this story. The rest of it can be blustered through with Judges, inquiries and by conceding a short term victory for Ed. But if he cannot close this question down he is in real trouble.

Today, Miliband had a decent outing. But Cameron wasn’t going to let him win without a fight, and he had a knife up his sleeve.

While the Leader of the Opposition is throwing around allegations of bad judgement, the wolves are closing in on his own front door with his spin doctor Tom Baldwin himself standing accused of illegally hacking the Conservative Party’s bank account. When Cameron threw the allegation straight into his shadow’s face, Miliband’s eyes went saucer-like .

Cameron ended the exchange finally trying to rise above the fray -- something he failed to do by avoiding the House on Monday.

Despite a dubious draw, if that, one important advantage that Cameron had is that he was due to make a full statement on the matter straight after Prime Minister’s Questions.

Outlining the nature of the inquiry and challenging Miliband to back his plans for all media executives and editors to have to log their meetings with politicians -- a move that could fundamentally change the way the Westminster’s lobby system works -- for the first time in ten days the Prime Minister looked to be on the front foot.

But don’t forget that Achilles heel…

Harry Cole is the UK Political Editor for The Commentator. He tweets at @MrHarryColeand is the News Editor for the Guido Fawkes blog

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