There are lots of negative press reaction for Ed Miliband this morning over his ineffective performance at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday – echoing the view of Andrew Gimson on this site yesterday.
In some way, Miliband’s response to the conviction of Andy Coulson has managed to swerve from being insipid to over the top. At one point, the Labour leaer droned on about minutiae – reading out a list of dates. Then he switched to making the preposterous charge that Mr Cameron hired a known criminal.
Does Miliband not believe in the presumption of innocence?
As Tim Montgomerie writes in The Times(£):
“Every person is innocent until 12 randomly selected men and women (or 11 in this case) decide otherwise in a court of law. Consider Rebekah Brooks. She was acquitted on Tuesday after an extraordinary three-year trial by media, during which time many assumed she was as guilty as sin. It wasn’t unreasonable for the prime minister to give Andy Coulson the benefit of the doubt.”
So a more credibile challenge from Miliband would have been to accept that at the time of his appointment Coulson was not a proven criminal – but to add that, for a senior Downing Street post, merely not being a proven criminal was setting the bar rather too low.
Still, the dog barks and the caravan moves on. What may prove of more lasting significance is the way in which in his hour of need Cameron’s backbench critics have rallied behind him.
Here is this noteworthy exchange:
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Prime Minister recruited Andy Coulson in 2007. In 2009, Nick Davies of The Guardian came to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee and said:
“I have never seen a piece of paper that directly links Andy Coulson to any of the activity that we are discussing of either kind.”
In February 2010, the Select Committee, on which I serve, concluded, with all-party support:
“We have seen no evidence that Andy Coulson knew that phone-hacking was taking place.”
Does the Prime Minister agree that those who now claim they knew he was involved in 2007—that seems to include the current Leader of the Opposition—should explain why they did not pass on that information to the police or to the Select Committee? Or are they trying to rewrite history to deflect attention from their own chronic leadership shortcomings?
The Prime Minister: I think my hon. Friend put it rather better than I did—[Interruption.] Thank you.
That’s right. It was Davies, rather than Cameron, who made the key point: If Miliband knew all along that Coulson was a criminal why didn’t he go to the police?
By overstating his case, the Labour leader botched it.
There was also the following from PMQs:
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Unemployment in north Northamptonshire is down by a third. Last week, this Conservative-led Government approved the Rushden Lakes development—2,000 new jobs, a major retail park and a fantastic leisure facility. Will the Prime Minister explain how we have such a success? Could it be down to his long-term economic plan?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for detailing what is happening in Northamptonshire in terms of the extra jobs and the development. I think what it proves is that we have an entrepreneurial economy, particularly in Northamptonshire, but we need key developments to go ahead to help unlock the jobs, growth and investment that we need for our country.
There is nothing more “on message” than using the phrase “long term economic plan”. When Mr Bone goes “on message”, something rather extraordinary is happening in the Conservative Party.
At the same time Labour MPs, are becoming ever more restive towards their Leader. That is despite Labour retaining a lead in the polls. What would happen if the Conservatives take the lead in the polls?
Not everyone in the Conservative Party is satisfied with Mr Cameron. The criticisms from Dominic Cummings this morning in The Times(£) could scarcely be more outspoken. Yet it seemed to have finally been accepted by Eurosceptic Tory MPs that the Prime Minister is an ally rather than an enemy.