PMQs sketch: Decibels replace debate

Drama at the Royal Courts spreads to the Commons.

Anyone short of a granddad could have picked one up at the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday where an appearance by Vlad the Impaler had been cancelled to let a nice 81-year-old talk about his friends in high places.

Hellfire and damnation had been forecast for the first appearance in a British court of the man accused of dominating political life in this country for 45 years but it was almost all sweetness - if not much light - as Rupert Murdoch arrived and swore to tell the truth and nothing but to the Leveson inquiry.

In the same seat where less than 24 hours earlier his son James had put the sword to the Tory government’s Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the octagenarian-head of the £60 billion Murdoch empire said he was just here to put a few myths to rest, and in a polished performance which lasted four hours the mask hardly ever slipped.

It was a day of drama throughout the West End befitting the home of the capital’s theatres.

Down at the Palace of Varieties MPs gathered for Prime Ministers Questions as David Cameron prepared to cope with another worst-day-ever in his political life so far this week.

And what a day it was to be with the news the UK had slipped back into recession and Jeremy’s spokesman had quit even before Rupert got into his stride.

It was hard to imagine the most powerful man in the country as he sat there in a suit slightly too big for him watched over by wife Wendi - she of the left hook - and son Lachlan, the one not called James.

As it was, Robert Jay, who had so successfully parted meat from bone when examining Murdoch Jr. yesterday, took a slightly easier tone with the media mogul who only bared his teeth occasionally to remind us how he had got his fingers into so many pies.

Jay led him on a merry romp through 40 years of political history as we learned he loved Thatcher, really liked Tony Blair, got on well with Gordon Brown until he became “unbalanced” about News International, regretted banning Chris Patten’s memoirs as Governor of Hong Kong and really hated the Sun, claiming “It was we wot won it” when Neil Kinnock was defeated.

Alex Salmond, in trouble North of the border following James’s revelations about him yesterday, will have been delighted to hear that his dad is quite a fan and enjoys the "warm” company of the SNP leader. 

The only time he almost lost it was when Jay made the apparently outrageous suggestion he was pally with politicians to help his business interests. Having had a few trips down this particular path, Jay finally got a rise out of Murdoch Sr. when he questioned his closeness of contact with Tony Blair, who would go on to be godfather to the godfather’s son.

Rupert banged the desk in punctuation as he lost patience and declared that during Tony’s ten years in power he never asked nor received any favours.

Indeed, the belief that he put his papers' influence behind politicians to better his business seemed as shocking to him as it had to son James yesterday.

But if it was shock you were looking for then the Government front bench down at the Commons during PMQs was the place to be.

The naughty step, occupied so expertly by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and his Home Office counterpart Theresa May in recent weeks, had obviously been extended overnight to make way for the Chancellor and the Culture Secretary.

George Osborne looked as if he had his veins opened as he sat waiting for Labour’s onslaught on his economic plans, but that was nothing compared to Jeremy Hunt’s pallor as the Labour benches strained to get at him.

David Cameron, of whom Rupert had been asked did he think a “lightweight”?, had only relaunched his government’s message on Monday following the second-longest suicide note in history that was the budget.

Now here he was trying to defend not only George for the fifth week in a row, but now Jeremy too, who until yesterday was one of the few “safe” pairs of hands left in his Cabinet.

With a goalmouth even more open that for Fernando Torres last night, Ed Miliband was spoilt for choice so he produced the sleaze card fir one, the too-far too-fast card fir the other, and threw both at David Cameron.

If only Rupert could have seen the battered PM from his pole position at Leveson set up by the same man, he may well have smiled.

As it was he may well have heard him as Dave tried and failed to shout his way out of the double disaster. 

Roared on by Tory backbenchers only too aware of the Party’s disastrous showing in the polls, decibels replaced debate as Ed M accused the “arrogant posh boys” of not knowing what was going on.

Back at Leveson the real Rupert told his advisors on his way to the lunch break: ”Lets get him to get this f****** thing over with today”. But clearly not loud enough for Lord Leveson to hear, as he announced a break until tomorrow.

David Cameron should make no plans.

Tugging at Dave's strings. Photo: Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism