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UK Politics

Donald Macintyre's Sketch: David Cameron delivers classic Tony Blair masterclass over the appointment of Andy Coulson


For a man who, as Ed Miliband put it, “will always be remembered as being the first ever occupant of his office who brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street”, David Cameron seemed almost cheerful as he left PM’s Questions.

Maybe it was the pat on the back he got from George Osborne (who originally recommended Andy Coulson’s appointment); or perhaps the unprecedented support of the rebellious continuity-Thatcherite wing of his party.

Normally the Prime Ministerial heart sinks when ultra-dissident Philip Davies catches the Speaker’s eye. Today Davies was so determined to turn the affair back on Labour by pointing out that an all party-Select Committee had in 2010 found “no evidence” of Coulson’s criminality, that a surprised Cameron replied: “I think my honourable friend put it rather better than I did. Thank you.” Rarely can the last two words can have been more heartfelt.

Or maybe Cameron was just pleased with his bullish deployment of Lord Leveson as his personal human shield. This was a classic from a Tony Blair masterclass: There’s been an inquiry. I got away with it. So you can’t get me, mate.

Miliband’s claim is, incidentally, debatable. Maundy Gregory, who sold honours for Lloyd George from 1918, admittedly worked from offices opposite – rather than inside – Downing Street but was surely at its spiritual “heart.”  This wasn’t Neil Kinnock fluffing the crucial Westland debate in January 1986. But nor did the Labour leader have a truly memorable soundbite like the one with which Harold Wilson summarised Harold Macmillan’s role in the  1956 Suez crisis: “First in, First Out”

Miliband did find a loose end, “the very important question,” of “whether Sir Gus O’Donnell [Cabinet Secretary at the time] or senior civil servants raised concerns about Coulson’s appointment.” But his claim that “the whole country will want an answer” to it is less convincing. Conversations in the proverbial Dog and Duck are hardly going: “Pint, please Bill. What really bothers me is the role of Gus O’Donnell. I know he told Leveson that he had nothing to do with the appointment, but can we be satisfied with that? And by the way Bill, do you think Miliband should have pressed him more on  Sir Jeremy Heywood? After all he was the Permanent Secretary at No 10.”

But most of the “the whole country” may not so easily forget that the PM made – in his words—a “wrong decision”.