Mehdi Hasan's PMQs review: Miliband bests Cameron over phone-hacking

It was a bravura performance from the Labour leader.

Those of us who have long argued that Ed Miliband has a steely side and shouldn't be underestimated or written off are feeling rather pleased with ourselves this afternoon.

Miliband chewed up and spat out David Cameron in one of his finest performances at the despatch box so far, leaving the Prime Minister in full "Flashman" mode: testy, irritated, veins near bulging point, getting pinker and pinker with each irate and defensive answer.

The session was a game of two halves: the first had Miliband quiet, serious, speaking on behalf of the public, asking for a public inquiry into hacking -- and getting one! -- and expressing disgust with the latest phone-hacking allegations. The second half saw him go after Cameron personally, calling on the Prime Minister to join him in demanding the resignation of the News International boss, Rebekah Brooks -- a close personal friend and regular dining parter of Cameron -- denouncing the PM's decision to employ the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his director of communications (a post from which Coulson resigned only in January) and urging the coalition government to refer Rupert Murdoch's bid to buy all of BSkyB to the Competition Commission.

Ahead of PMQs, the BBC's deputy political editor, James Landale, observed:

Ed Miliband has two options in terms of tactics on hacking. He can choose to be political, attacking David Cameron over his judgement in employing Andy Coulson, or he can position himself as the voice of the people, focusing on the public revulsion at some of the most recent revelations.

The Labour leader threw out the rule book and decided to do both. It worked. Cameron spent much of the exchange on the defensive, unable to offer convincing answers or rebuttals and falling back on the tired and now discredited response of: "Let the police do their work." The verdict of the political Twitterati was in before he'd sat down after his last question: Ed Miliband 1, David Cameron 0.

Here's the Sky News political editor, Adam Boulton:

PMQs: EM wipes the floor with DC on #phonehacking #NotW #Skymerger. DC backs inquiries but ducks on Rebekah, Coulson and merger referral

Here's his Sky News colleague Jon Craig:

Ed Miliband's best PMQs yet? The view of a few of us in the Press Gallery. Well argued, calm, reasoned. Had Cameron on defensive & rattled.

Here's the ITV News political editor, Tom Bradby:

He was stronger, more confident, more authoritative and more convincing than he has ever been. He may just have saved his leadership.

And then there's Charlie Brooker, who asked:

Who knew Miliband had a "Hulk" mode?

A simple answer: James Macintyre and I did.

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.