Update: As I wrote earlier, Cameron has never appeared as angry as he did in the Commons today. Here’s footage of him telling Dennis Skinner to “take his pension”.
In choosing to give Jeremy Hunt his full backing, David Cameron has taken one of the biggest gambles of his premiership. Appearing in the Commons to answer an urgent question from Labour, an extremely ill-tempered Cameron conceded that it was not for the Leveson inquiry to determine whether Hunt broke the ministerial code (as he had earlier refused to do) but again insisted that no separate investigation was required. He added, however, that he would take action if “new evidence” emerged that the code had been broken. This is a risky strategy which will leave Cameron looking foolish if he is later forced to sack Hunt. As a forensic Ed Miliband argued, there is already strong evidence that the Culture Secretary has violated the ministerial code on at least three counts.
First, Hunt falsely told MPs that he was revealing all his department’s exchanges with News Corporation. Second, News Corp was given confidential information before it was disclosed to the Commons about the BSkyB takeover. Third, even if we assume that Hunt wasn’t aware of his special adviser’s “freelance mission”, he should have been. If he did know, he’s too wicked to stay in his post, if he didn’t know, he’s too stupid. Miliband aptly concluded: “The special adviser had to go to protect the Culture Secretary, the Culture Secretary has to stay to protect the prime minister.”
The Tories’ hope is that voters will agree with Cameron that the focus should be on more “serious” issues like “the eurozone, the jobs, the debts we have to deal with.” But while voters care little for the minutiae of the Leveson inquiry, they are disturbed by the impression, as Miliband put it, that Cameron is “too close to a powerful few, out-of-touch with everyone else.” It is not enough for Cameron to point out, as he repeatedly did, that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown also fell under the spell of the Murdoch empire. It is he, not Blair or Brown, who is now holding the reins of power and who repeatedly promised to hold himself to a higher standard. “The last lot were just as bad” is not an argument that will persuade anyone to give Cameron the benefit of the doubt.