Suppose you caught a thief with his fingers in the tin, and he said "You caught me, but I am part of a broader system. We have all failed. To coin a phrase – 'We're all in this together'. Which of us has not taped our own music, or failed to pay our tax on time, or failed to return to the shop when we realised we had been under-charged? We live in a society of avarice, in which we court wealth in an unhealthy way. We are all guilty." Would you find this a persuasive and impressive response?
My guess is that you would think this socialist claptrap if asserted by someone other than the thief himself – the worst kind of caricatured "Society made me do it" nonsense. But if it were the thief himself, well the chutzpah alone might give you pause to admire for a moment, but once the stunning nature of the manoeuvre had worn off, you would just think it pathetic.
Somehow, though, Mr Cameron believes we should react differently. He's been caught palling up to someone that appears to have been ultimately responsible for hacking the phones of murdered schoolchildren and bribing policemen (and who says that there is much worse to come), and for hiring someone else apparently involved, and his response has been "The Political System made me do it! We have all been guilty of becoming too friendly with the media. The culture needs to change!" For goodness' sake grow some cajones, man! Take a little personal responsibility. Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson didn't make you become involved with these people. You chose that for yourself.
It wasn't obviously a mistake to have hired Andy Coulson at the time. Just because he'd been fired before, had been involved in or turned a blind idea to overly ruthless conduct in pursuit of a story, didn't necessarily mean he wouldn't do well the job he was hired to do for Cameron and later for the government. And we don't actually know he did anything wrong subsequently. But the right defence isn't "Society made me do it"!
Mr Cameron doesn't have to attack his friends. The alternatives aren't "Either defend Rebekah Brooks or attack her." But the way out of that isn't "Attack all newspapers and all of the political classes and the press complaints process, collectively."
It wasn't true that all politicians were equally guilty, equally responsible for the system, in the case of the expenses scandal. But Mr Cameron appears to believe that, just as he was able to collectivise matters there, smearing and destroying the careers of many perfectly upright fellow politicians who deserved better from him, simply so as to distract attention from his own failings – just as he was able to get away with "We are all guilty" there, he will get away with it here.
But he won't. The other newspapers don't want to play. They don't want to accept either that it is always-and-everywhere improper to spy on anyone or that the whole newspaper industry is guilty for the failings of News International or even that failings in one part of a paper necessarily imply that the whole paper should be ruined. It was misguided and wrong for him to make enemies of his backbenchers (and some frontbenchers) over the expenses scandal. But they will seek their revenge served cold. The papers are not so patient.