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PMQs review: the shield of Leveson saves Cameron

The media inquiry and Miliband's pose with the Sun gifted victory to the PM.

The media inquiry and Miliband's pose with the Sun gifted victory to the PM.
David Cameron outside 10 Downing Street on the day the Leveson report was published. Photograph: Getty Images.

If David Cameron regretted setting up the Leveson inquiry before today, he certainly doesn't now. Bombarded with a volley of questions on Andy Coulson by Ed Miliband, the PM deployed the judge's report as a shield (even wielding a physical copy), insisting that every concern raised by Miliband had already been addressed.

It was one of Cameron's most disingenuous moments. The inquiry took place while Coulson's case and others were ongoing, and so was strictly limited in the questions it could pursue. More to the point, it would never have even been established had Miliband not had Cameron "on the run" (in the words of the latter). But this did not stop it providing the PM with a means of deflecting every one of Miliband's questions.

The Labour leader reminded Cameron that he ignored successive warnings from the Guardian, Nick Clegg (sat awkwardly next to Cameron) and the New York Times over Coulson's involvement in phone-hacking. But Cameron dismissively replied that all of these issues had already been examined by Leveson - and resolved in his favour. It was a crude line of defence, but it was enough for him to hold his own in the chamber. 

Matters did not improve for Miliband when he turned to the issue of vetting. Cameron falsely claimed that Gus O'Donnell, the former cabinet secretary, was asked at the Leveson inquiry whether he raised concerns with him over Coulson's appointment, an error that Miliband was quick to pounce on. But Cameron had one trump card left to play. "I'll tell you what's weak," he declared, "Posing with a copy of the Sun only to apologise for it a few hours later." As the Tory benches cheered and their Labour counterparts grimaced, the wind left Miliband's sails. After this right hook, Miliband's technical queries on the civil service could not help sounding flat. Against expectations, Cameron ended the session on top.

The PM had had years to prepare for this moment - and it showed. It was a fluent and unwavering performance. Miliband will be widely accused of missing an "open goal", but his failure to land any memorable blows on Cameron today had more to do with the reality that much of the damage from the scandal has already been done. The line from No. 10 yesterday was that the affair has already been factored into the PM's share price. Nothing that occurred today suggests that they are wrong. 

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