“Stop hunting feeble conspiracy theories and start rising to the level of events.”
Thus David Cameron accused Ed Milband of chasing shadows, marking the start of what was clearly intended to be a fightback on the phone hacking issue after the prime minister’s absence in Africa over the past few days.
His statement was short and to the point, and included quite a bit of detail about the remit of the judicial inquiry and the independent panel that will assist it.
While Cameron has been away, Miliband has made a success of seizing the narrative on phone hacking, calling for Parliament to be recalled and positioning himself as the voice of people concerned about the impact on the victims of phone hacking.
However, Cameron made it very clear in this appearance that he’s back, and plans now to lead the way on this. He made much of the fact that it is his government that is taking action on phone hacking and media transparency where previous Labour governments had failed to do so. They’ve set up a judicial inquiry and a fully-resourced police investigation. Sometimes, there are advantages to being in governemtn and being the man who can give the orders.
Although Ed Miliband has today published his meetings with media executives, Cameron pointed out that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are yet to do the same. The PM even got a good dig in about how prior to this, you had to “wait for Alastair Campbell’s diaries” to find out what went on in Downing Street.
There were big cheers when the Speaker called on the key players in yesterday's committee hearings: Tom Watson, Lousie Mensch, John Wittingdale all got commendations from the prime minister for their questioning. The atmosphere in the House, though, was unruly and excitable - Ben Bradshaw kept making repeated throat-cutting motions at the PM, mouthing "finished".
Cameron also toughened up his language on his employment of Andy Coulson, saying that “had he known what he knows now”, he would not have hired him, but that Coulson’s work while in Downing Street had never been questioned.
Labour isn’t going to hand over the baton on this issue without a fight though. Dennis Skinner, Beast of Bolsover and parliamentary veteran, asked Cameron whether he had ever discussed the BskyB bid with anyone from News International. The prime minister responded that he’d never had any “inappropriate” conversations with anyone from that organistion and had taken himself out of the decision-making process on the bid entirely. Which isn’t the same as saying he hadn’t discussed it.
Cameron isn’t out of danger yet.