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.