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

Getty
Show Hide image

Why is Labour surging in Wales?

A new poll suggests Labour will not be going gently into that good night. 

Well where did that come from? The first two Welsh opinion polls of the general election campaign had given the Conservatives all-time high levels of support, and suggested that they were on course for an historic breakthrough in Wales. For Labour, in its strongest of all heartlands where it has won every general election from 1922 onwards, this year had looked like a desperate rear-guard action to defend as much of what they held as possible.

But today’s new Welsh Political Barometer poll has shaken things up a bit. It shows Labour support up nine percentage points in a fortnight, to 44 percent. The Conservatives are down seven points, to 34 per cent. Having been apparently on course for major losses, the new poll suggests that Labour may even be able to make ground in Wales: on a uniform swing these figures would project Labour to regain the Gower seat they narrowly lost two years ago.

There has been a clear trend towards Labour in the Britain-wide polls in recent days, while the upwards spike in Conservative support at the start of the campaign has also eroded. Nonetheless, the turnaround in fortunes in Wales appears particularly dramatic. After we had begun to consider the prospect of a genuinely historic election, this latest reading of the public mood suggests something much more in line with the last century of Welsh electoral politics.

What has happened to change things so dramatically? One possibility is always that this is simply an outlier – the "rogue poll" that basic sampling theory suggests will happen every now and then. As us psephologists are often required to say, "it’s just one poll". It may also be, as has been suggested by former party pollster James Morris, that Labour gains across Britain are more apparent than real: a function of a rise in the propensity of Labour supporters to respond to polls.

But if we assume that the direction of change shown by this poll is correct, even if the exact magnitude may not be, what might lie behind this resurgence in Labour’s fortunes in Wales?

One factor may simply be Rhodri Morgan. Sampling for the poll started on Thursday last week – less than a day after the announcement of the death of the much-loved former First Minister. Much of Welsh media coverage of politics in the days since has, understandably, focused on sympathetic accounts of Mr Morgan’s record and legacy. It would hardly be surprising if that had had some positive impact on the poll ratings of Rhodri Morgan’s party – which, we should note, are up significantly in this new poll not only for the general election but also in voting intentions for the Welsh Assembly. If this has played a role, such a sympathy factor is likely to be short-lived: by polling day, people’s minds will probably have refocussed on the electoral choice ahead of them.

But it could also be that Labour’s campaign in Wales is working. While Labour have been making modest ground across Britain, in Wales there has been a determined effort by the party to run a separate campaign from that of the UK-wide party, under the "Welsh Labour" brand that carried them to victory in last year’s devolved election and this year’s local council contests. Today saw the launch of the Welsh Labour manifesto. Unlike two years ago, when the party’s Welsh manifesto was only a modestly Welshed-up version of the UK-wide document, the 2017 Welsh Labour manifesto is a completely separate document. At the launch, First Minister Carwyn Jones – who, despite not being a candidate in this election is fronting the Welsh Labour campaign – did not even mention Jeremy Corbyn.

Carwyn Jones also represented Labour at last week’s ITV-Wales debate – in contrast to 2015, when Labour’s spokesperson was then Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith. Jones gave an effective performance, being probably the best performer alongside Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood. In fact, Wood was also a participant in the peculiar, May-less and Corbyn-less, ITV debate in Manchester last Thursday, where she again performed capably. But her party have as yet been wholly unable to turn this public platform into support. The new Welsh poll shows Plaid Cymru down to merely nine percent. Nor are there any signs yet that the election campaign is helping the Liberal Democrats - their six percent support in the new Welsh poll puts them, almost unbelievably, at an even lower level than they secured in the disastrous election of two year ago.

This is only one poll. And the more general narrowing of the polls across Britain will likely lead to further intensification, by the Conservatives and their supporters in the press, of the idea of the election as a choice between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn as potential Prime Ministers. Even in Wales, this contrast does not play well for Labour. But parties do not dominate the politics of a nation for nearly a century, as Labour has done in Wales, just by accident. Under a strong Conservative challenge they certainly are, but Welsh Labour is not about to go gently into that good night.

Roger Scully is Professor of Political Science in the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University.

0800 7318496