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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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.