Cameron isolated over public inquiry

Clegg, Miliband, and Boris demand a judge-led inquiry. Will Cameron give in?

It may now be easier to compile a list of those who didn't have their phones hacked, than those who did, but the revelation that the families of dead soldiers were targeted is still in a sordid class of its own. Naturally, it's increased the pressure for an immediate public inquiry into the scandal. Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and, now, Boris Johnson are all agreed that the inquiry should be led by a judge. But David Cameron insists that it need not be.

One Downing Street source tells the Guardian: "We do not have to have a judge-led inquiry to make it effective." The suspicion, of course, is that the Prime Minister is unwilling to testify under oath that Andy Coulson did know about the phone hacking.

It's a stance that puts him at odds with Clegg, who, in an email to Lib Dem members explicitly declared that the inquiry "must be presided over by a judge". Clegg's call was echoed by Chris Huhne, a persistent critic of News International, who told the Today programme: "the inquiry is going to have to be judge-led." Similarly, Boris declared this morning: "There should be a judge-led inquiry and it should be immediate ... get the editors in, get the proprietors in."

But for others an inquiry, judge-led or otherwise, is a distraction from the priority -- to stop Rupert Murdoch getting his hands on the 61 per cent of BSkyB he does not already own. Lord Oakeshott, a close ally of Vince Cable, tells the Independent: "What is the point of an inquiry if Mr Murdoch is allowed to walk away with the big prize [BSkyB]?" Intriguingly, the paper reports that some MPs believe there could be "discreet contacts between Downing Street and senior News Corp figures urging the company to suspend its bid." Others speculate that the government may use emergency legislation to halt Murdoch's takeover.

The expectation among some is that all of this could persuade Murdoch to toughen his stance and cut Rebekah Brooks loose. But it's hard to see how the departure of Brooks, however cathartic, could assuage News Corp's political foes. The damage, as Murdoch well knows, has been done.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn turns "the nasty party" back on Theresa May

The Labour leader exploited Conservative splits over disability benefits.

It didn't take long for Theresa May to herald the Conservatives' Copeland by-election victory at PMQs (and one couldn't blame her). But Jeremy Corbyn swiftly brought her down to earth. The Labour leader denounced the government for "sneaking out" its decision to overrule a court judgement calling for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to be extended to those with severe mental health problems.

Rather than merely expressing his own outrage, Corbyn drew on that of others. He smartly quoted Tory backbencher Heidi Allen, one of the tax credit rebels, who has called on May to "think agan" and "honour" the court's rulings. The Prime Minister protested that the government was merely returning PIPs to their "original intention" and was already spending more than ever on those with mental health conditions. But Corbyn had more ammunition, denouncing Conservative policy chair George Freeman for his suggestion that those "taking pills" for anxiety aren't "really disabled". After May branded Labour "the nasty party" in her conference speech, Corbyn suggested that the Tories were once again worthy of her epithet.

May emphasised that Freeman had apologised and, as so often, warned that the "extra support" promised by Labour would be impossible without the "strong economy" guaranteed by the Conservatives. "The one thing we know about Labour is that they would bankrupt Britain," she declared. Unlike on previous occasions, Corbyn had a ready riposte, reminding the Tories that they had increased the national debt by more than every previous Labour government.

But May saved her jibe of choice for the end, recalling shadow cabinet minister Cat Smith's assertion that the Copeland result was an "incredible achivement" for her party. "I think that word actually sums up the Right Honourable Gentleman's leadership. In-cred-ible," May concluded, with a rather surreal Thatcher-esque flourish.

Yet many economists and EU experts say the same of her Brexit plan. Having repeatedly hailed the UK's "strong economy" (which has so far proved resilient), May had better hope that single market withdrawal does not wreck it. But on Brexit, as on disability benefits, it is Conservative rebels, not Corbyn, who will determine her fate.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.