Ahead of David Cameron’s appearance at the Leveson inquiry tomorrow, Ed Miliband led on Jeremy Hunt at today’s PMQs, the first for three weeks. Asked why he had referred Baroness Warsi to Alex Allan, the independent adviser on ministers’ interests, but not Hunt, Cameron gave his stock reply that a “judge-led inquiry” was gathering all the information behind the Culture Secretary’s case. As scripted, Miliband then pointed to Hunt’s likely multiple breaches of the ministerial code. But Cameron had a trump card – he produced a letter from Allan in which the latter concluded: “The fact that there is an on-going judicial Inquiry probing and taking evidence under oath means that I do not believe I could usefully add to the facts in this case”. Yet Allan isn’t required to “add to the facts”, rather, he needs to rule on whether Hunt broke the ministerial code. One might also note that Allan lacks the power to trigger his own investigation (as Allan told Cameron, Hunt’s adherence to the Ministerial Code is “a matter for you”.) Thus, the letter does little to bolster Cameron’s defence but it still allowed him, however briefly, to regain the initiative.
Miliband recovered well after this surprise, challenging Cameron to explain why, if his case is so strong, his deputy is not supporting him. To which the PM candidly replied: “I understand, it’s politics.” It was a neat riposte that Cameron might want to use again. At this point, Miliband remarked of Cameron: “I have to say he’s reached a new state of delusion, he just wants to talk about the past.” In anticipation of the words to follow (“He was the future once”, Cameron’s famous jibe against Blair), Miliband was interrupted by barracking from MPs, and when he eventually delivered the line it fell terribly flat.
Given the extent of the government’s woes, Cameron will be relieved to have emerged largely unscathed from today’s session. Miliband’s surprising decision not to ask a question about the economy meant the PM was not required to defend the coalition’s weakest point. As Cameron left the chamber he was patted on the back by George Osborne, both men satisfied by a performance that will have settled some Tory nerves.