Ed Miliband achieved the impossible today. He finished his J’Accuse an even more diminished leader than when he began.
Weak, weak, weak! The Tories chanted. “I’ll tell you what’s weak,” Ed said weakly, “it’s failing to stand up for the right thing.”
Cameron’s definition of weak was more detailed: “Attacking Rupert Murdoch, posing with a copy of the Sun and then apologising for it! That’s weak!”
And then, of course, Alastair Campbell, Jo Moore and Damian McBride.
Ed’s lead-line, his headline, his top line was: “You brought a criminal into Downing Street.”
It’s not a bad line, in fact. It’s nasty. It resonates at a childhood level of right and wrong. And it’s sinister.
But then, but then . . . Criminals in Downing Street.
Ed himself has an adviser publicly accused of Class A drug use. His predecessors, as Cameron pointed out, have a variety of real victims to their account. From David Kelly to the Paddington rail crash survivors to Conservative MPs to half a million Iraqis…
Was it an open goal? Hard to know how to score on this pitch. Lot of attention. High expectations. Big moment for beleaguered Labour leader competing with Michael Foot for top comic spot.
And Cameron had a single defence to every accusation: Leveson’s Inquiry had exonerated him at every level, of every charge.
A judge who took eight months and spent £5m taking evidence on oath had comprehensively cleared him.
It was the only defence he needed and Ed kept running into it.
The killer question (Miliband waited mulishly for quiet in the Chamber) asked whether Gus O’Donnell had raised hacking concerns with the PM.
Er, Leveson! All covered by Leveson. O’Donnell’s evidence to Leveson rebuts, rejects, refutes these accusations.
Miliband came back with a promising line: “Gus O’Donnell wasn’t asked that question at Leveson!”
Oo, hang on, wasn’t he? Was he not asked that, was the PM making that up? A series of persistent follow-ups might have yielded the result Miliband wanted, but the duffer doesn’t play in that league. That was the end, not the beginning.
Chris Bryant, thrilling with indignation, said the “second chance” Cameron had given Coulson presupposed “a first offence”. “You’re such a little twerp, aren’t you?” Cameron replied, “No wonder you couldn’t get elected to the Shadow Cabinet.” I think that’s what he said. The second chance was after he’d resigned as editor.
Ronnie Campbell and Yasmin Qureshi read out Whips’ questions with very little relish, especially as both question had been asked and answered more than once already (“Leveson.”).
Philip Davies, member of the Culture committee who looked into hacking told the House that the Guardian had said in 2009 there was no piece of paper connecting Coulson to hacking, the committee never came up with any evidence that Coulson knew hacking was taking place, and that Labour were using this to “deflect attention from their own chronic leadership shortfall.” Tory delight.
“I think he put it rather better than I did,” Cameron said. “Thank you.” And sat down.
Does anybody care? Outside our over-oxygenated bubble do people know who Brooks and Coulson are? Any more than we know who’s standing in Labour’s imminent NEC election?