Today must have been the first that David Cameron thought ‘thank goodness for the Leveson report’ as he prepared for Prime Minister’s Questions. He used the report as a shield in his exchanges with Ed Miliband, waving it about at the despatch box and saying that he had ‘totally disproved him using the evidence’ on a series of accusations that the Labour leader had made about whether or not he ignored warnings about hiring Andy Coulson and bringing him into Downing Street.
The Prime Minister did not leave this session weakened, even though in some cases the points he made were weak. He got his apology in early thanks for a planted question from Tory backbencher Damian Collins, and this meant his first response to Miliband’s first question was ‘as I said a moment ago’. This set the Tory leader up for a session in which he tried to make Miliband’s criticisms look old, as though the Labour leader was just hunting through old stories to find a hit. Miliband wanted to make the exchanges about the Prime Minister’s failure of judgement and his dogged determination to hire Coulson in spite of repeated warnings that he shouldn’t. Both men will have got enough from that session: Miliband will want to pursue the question of developed vetting and why Coulson did not receive it, while Cameron managed to suggest that Miliband didn’t think the Leveson Inquiry had done its job.
But what was fascinating was the way the Conservative awkward squad rallied around Cameron today. Philip Davies, Sir Gerald Howarth and Peter Bone all backing the Prime Minister could normally be used as a substitute expression for ‘rare as hen’s teeth’, but there they were today, asking helpful questions. This is made all the more interesting by the predictions of Tory malcontents that the hacking trial would represent a point of maximum weakness for the Prime Minister. And it could limit the Labour attack, as internal party unrest will push an issue up the agenda. But Miliband knows that in his grand theme of him being a decent leader and Cameron being someone who doesn’t care and you can’t trust, he’s scored another point: the Prime Minister made a mistake and hired a man convicted this week of conspiracy to hack phones. Even if he cannot sustain this as a political story for very long, it is a point Miliband can raise again and again when examining David Cameron’s character in speeches and debates.