By Matthew Barrett
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Today's Prime Minister's Questions should have been an excitable affair: we hadn't had one for three weeks, and in the period since the last PMQs, there had been developments in Labour's current anti-Government campaign: the Leveson Inquiry. A lack of wit, a strange absence of the sort of tension that can often mark PMQs, and a poor performance from Ed Miliband meant the whole session was rather flat, and neither David Cameron nor Jeremy Hunt faced any serious scrutiny from Labour.
Miliband started his questions by asking why David Cameron chose to refer Baroness Warsi's alleged rule-breaking to an independent commissioner, but did not do the same for Jeremy Hunt. Cameron said there is a "very significant difference" in the two cases. In Warsi's case, there has been no judge-led inquiry into the alleged wrongdoing. Cameron explained he was "very happy" with Baroness Warsi's explanation of her alleged wrongdoing. Miliband responded by asking whether Hunt was asked a single question at Leveson about whether he broke the ministerial code.
Cameron responded by reading out a letter from Sir Alex Allan (the independent commissioner examining ministeral code-breaking), which said:
"I note your decision in relation to Jeremy Hunt’s adherence to the Ministerial Code which is of course a matter for you. The fact that there is an on-going judicial Inquiry probing and taking evidence under oath means that I do not believe that I could usefully add to the facts in this case though I remain available should circumstances change or new evidence emerge."
The Conservative backbenches jeered. Miliband asked a silly question – why was Nick Clegg not supporting the Prime Minister at PMQs. As Clegg was at Leveson at the time, it would have been impossible for him to be in the House. However, Cameron deflected, accusing Labour of having allowed foreign companies to have British broadcasting licenses. Cameron also made the point that both big parties had sucked up to media giants over the last twenty years – except, he said, "To be fair to the Liberal Democrats, they didn't have that relationship (with News International) and their abstention tonight is to make that point and I understand that, it's politics".
"He's reached a new stage of delusion", replied Miliband. "He just wants to talk about the past. He was the future once", Miliband said – a poorly delivered version of the line Blair used against Major, and Cameron against Blair. Cameron took the opportunity to read out Gordon Brown's statement at Leveson that he never briefed against senior Ministers. Francis Maude thoroughly enjoyed this, pointing at the Opposition front bench – presumably Ed Balls, one of Brown's former aides accused of vicious briefing.
On backbench questions, three issues of note arose:
- Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) asked the Prime Minister to assure him there would be no third runway. Cameron confirmed there had been on change in Coalition policy, but gave himself just about enough leeway to make a u-turn, by saying airport capacity had to be expanded, and Heathrow must be made to operate to a better standard.
- On a question from Kris Hopkins (Keighley) about HS2, the Prime Minister said "I believe we should go ahead with HS2" – which doesn't sound as firm as it might, especially as the Government had previously given the impression it is going ahead with HS2.
- There was a disappointing number of questions about local issues which would have been better directed to the relevant Minister. Things the Prime Minister does actually have some influence on were neglected: the €urozone crisis got only a brief mention, and Syria got no mention at all.