PMQs sketch: hypocrisy is the name of the game

Until this scandal, shaking Murdoch's hand was the ambition of any aspiring PM. Now they want to sha

If hypocrisy had a smell it could have been bottled and sold by the gallon from the House of Commons shop today. It might have gone down well with the slices of cold revenge and chips that were being served on the MPs' lunchtime menu.

Many thought this day would never come. Prime Minister Dave had just hoped it never would. Could it really be just three weeks ago that he and Ed and others had taken Rupert's shilling, or at least his champagne and canapés, at the News International Summer Party? Was this the one they flew across oceans and delayed holidays to meet? Could this really be the same Rupert none of them had really known, none of them had really liked and certainly none of them wanted anything more to do with? Yes, it can be revealed: it is the same rascal. Thus the stage was set for a sight as rare in British politics as a nipple-free Sun: cross-party agreement on a plan to get him.

It was an exciting occasion anyway, because it marked the last Prime Ministers Questions before the long vacation. MPs will disappear next week until October, apart from a few days in September recently written into the script in case the electorate get the hump.

So it was that Dave entered the lion's den with the look of a man who knew the game was up and a thrashing was about to be administered. He was flanked by best friend and spare back-bone George, grim-faced at the trials to come, and his loyal deputy Nick, his annual sojourn to Spain clearly on his mind but with the demeanour of someone who at last had found himself on the right side...Ed Milliband's.

When Ed stood up, the cheering was so loud that observers thought someone else had come into the chamber. Gone was Ed the Unready, and in his place the new, improved, almost unrecognisable Ed -- The Leader of the Labour Party version. The last seven days have achieved for him what the last 11 months did not, and you could see it writ large on his face.

You knew Dave was in for it when Ed began by inviting the Prime Minister to agree his neighbor and dining friend Rebekah Brooks should quit as Rupert's presence-on-earth at News International. And to agree that Rupert should abandon plans to take over BSkyB.

Dave, who has changed his tune so much in recent days that he could form his own choir ,got so flustered that he said Rebekah had already resigned. But everyone knew that this was just the preamble and that Ed has shown recently that he is finally learning the lessons of being a leader: once your opponent is down, keep kicking him.

George, the Chancellor, who apparently holds several degrees in bullying, could only whisper sweet nothings into the battered ear of his best friend as Ed, egged on by those on his own side who would happily have dumped him last month, turned, as Dave knew he would, to the unanswerable Andy question.

It will be a set text in political lectures for years to come. Was the Prime Minister of the day right to employ as his conduit to the nation's thinking someone who had made a career of examining the bedclothes of famous people? Further, why had he ignored the warnings of a queue of people, apparently long enough to line Whitehall, who believed the appointment scored 15 on the 1 to 10 scale of unfortunate decisions.

Had he been told Andy was not necessarily kosher asked Ed, confident that the PM could only squirm on the hook. The House came down, as Sir Bruce would say, as Dave denied anyone had given him good reason why the former editor of the News of the World, who resigned after a member of his staff was jailed for phone-hacking and denied he knew anything about it, should not then have been appointed his mouthpiece in Number 10.

Unanimity, the watchword at the start of the day, had lasted all of four minutes in the House of Commons. (Speaker Bercow, slightly subdued since his discovery last week that he is about to go on loan to Afghanistan, almost bounced out of his box at the volume of end of term noise.)

Of course what Dave could not say is that Andy also got the job because he was pals with, or at least knew the phone number of he whose name had ostensibly united them all in the chamber that day -- the Sun King himself, Rupert Murdoch.

Ed himself squirmed a little when Dave pointed out that his new mouthpiece Tom Baldwin also worked for Rupert for many years on the Times. But of course there now exists a new kind of UK political time: AM and PM. Ante Murdoch and Post Murdoch. AM time ended when the depth of the News of the World crisis became clear. Until then shaking Rupert warmly by the hand was the ambition of any politician hoping to become Prime Minister. PM time means the same people queuing up to shake him warmly by the throat.

Rupert has a long reach and a long memory, and this is a multi-billion pound deal. There are no rather rotund ladies singing yet. Watch this space.

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

 

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

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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