Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Jon Stewart on the Murdochs: David Cameron PMQs in Parliament today Live Blog

First some laughs from Jon Stewart who skewers Fox News over their non-coverage of the Murdochs in front of the Parliamentary select committee yesterday.

Prime Minister's Questions:
11:40: David Cameron, still jet-lagged from his truncated trip to Africa, is telling Parliament how marvelous the resigned rozzers were. The inquiry,which will start this month, consists of:
Shami Chakrabarti, the Liberty director, Sir Paul Scott-Lee, a former police chief, David Currie, the former Ofcom director, Elinor Goodman, the former Channel 4 political editor, George Jones, the former Daily Telegraph political editor, Sir David Bell, the former Financial Times chairman

Calling on people from abroad with different skill-sets to sort out the Met. Defending refusal to talk to John Yates re Ed Llewellyn [about more potentially damning info on Coulson]. Defending BSkyB decision, but distancing himself just in case. Didn't know about Neil Wallis offering advice before election until last week.

On Andy Coulson, depends on whether they can prove Coulson lied. So no responsibility on PM's part to investigate major player implicated in phone-hacking scandal. But taking responsibility for hiring Coulson — principle of innocent until proven guilty. "Believe me, I have learnt."

Acknowledges excessive closeness between politicians and media owners. Shuns petty political point-scoring but should all work together.

11:50: Ed Miliband Welcomes Lord Leveson's inquiry and panel. Welcomes apology from Murdoch and withdrawal of BSkyB bid. Prime Minister must work together if they are to move foreward. Speaker having to calm rowdy house. "Stoppit!"

Ed: PM says he was excluded from "formal" decision process re BSkyB but has met Murdochs, Brooks from News International on 26 occasions. Did he or Culture Sec discuss bid with News Int?

Five opportunities to change mind on employing Andy Coulson. Chief of Staff did nothing with information. (Wilfull blindness again.) Yates offered to brief Cameron but offer turned down by Llewellyn. PM compromised by relationship with Coulson so could not be told. Conflict of interest re new director of communication. PM did nothing. (Putting your telescope to your blind eye.) Ed v good at calmly listing each occasion when PM could and should have known about renewed interest in Coulson's connection with phone-hacking investigation.

Asking why PM's support built a wall of silence around him regarding Coulson. Three questions to ask: BSkyB involvement, Coulson, and the Met commissioner. Heckling, "hindsight" from Tories. I'd like to know what happened to foresight. Ed inviting Ed to apologise for bringing Coulson into the heart of government.

12 noon: David Cameron denying the tissue of lies from Ed. (Tory benches looking grim.) Desperately trying to turn it back on Blair and Brown. Re Andy Coulson, no issue about his behaviour in role. Defending Chief Of Staff Ed Llewellyn — everyone saying his decision not to bother PM with Yates offer correct. Saying matters around the cops answered. Saying Gordon Brown was closest of all to Murdoch, advised by Ed Miliband at the time. Referring to Ed's "slumber party" laid on for Rebekah Brooks. Insists there was no breach of ministerial code and no inappropriate conversations with NI re BSkyB.

12:05: Alan Johnson — Neil Wallis was giving advice to Met. Did PM know? Dave says no.

Simon Hughes asking if for last 20 years, governments too close to media. Wants this to end. Dave taking a swipe: in the past the only way you learnt about secret meetings with Murdochs was waiting for Alastair Campbell"s diaries.

In answer to Jack Straw, repeating that he depended on Coulson's assurances even after NY Times article. If it's proved, he'll throw Andy out the back of the sleigh.

12:11: Tom Watson contradicting PM, reminding him he wrote a letter re Coulson during his employment, but hasn't been answered. Dave blustering that no-one complained about Coulson's conduct while he was in the job.

Dave says inquiry can go back to examine relationships between govt and media, so Labour won't come out smelling of roses. Dragging in BBC, Independent and Guardian, "not just News International".

Keith Vaz mentions Harbottle & Lewis hanging onto incriminating emails for four years until Lord Macdonald said he discovered evidence of wrongdoing within five minutes of reading the material.

Ben Bradhsaw asks if there were any conversations about BSkyB bid. Dave says, yah, boo, sucks, you talk about your tenure as Culture Sec.

NI insisting on client confidentiality from Harbottle & Lewis, in contradiction to yesterday's humility pantomime, despite Lord Macdonald's findings.

Louise Mensch yah boo sucking over Damian McBride.

Dennis Skinner: The PM has been asked a simple question twice and refused to answer. Did he ever have a conversation with NI over the BSkyB bid. Dave: "I had no inappropriate conversation. I've answered the question." We've answered in contrast to the party opposite. We set up the inquiry unlike Labour. We should allow it to get on with the job.

Paul Farrelly: Yesterday, NI defence shifted from one rogue reporter to rogue lawyers.

Tory says should be no apportioning of blame but use this as an opportunity for change.

12:29: Dave never saw Rebekah Brooks in her jammies (unlike Ed Miliband who laid on slumber party.)

Nick Raynsford: Dave challenged again that he had no info on Coulson. Yet a year ago he was advised on Coulson's involvement in illegal surveillance of govt official. Dave's mantra: there was no complaint about Coulson while he was in the job.

Emily Thornbury on NYTimes article. When did he hear about it, who told him about it? Dave says if it was credible info he would have fired Coulson. Not my problem any more as Coulson not employed by him. "I had no responsibility for BSkyB bid." Three wise monkey answers.

Minister for Police: Did he want to be kept in the dark, or is he angry with his Chief of Staff? PM: Stephenson, Yates, etc, all say Ed Llewellyn's decision was right.

Ooh, first mention of Chancellor George Osborne employing Coulson. Dave says it was his decision alone.

Jeremy Corbyn asked about Coulson. Jack Dromey pointed out Coulson had employed the men who'd hacked Milly Dowler's phone. Wasn't this evil? Damian McBride, Alastair Campbell and now Tom Baldwin cited by Cameron as bogeymen equivalent to Coulson.

Tory woman wearing identical pink jacket to Wendi Deng, yesterday, trying to suck up some of Wendi's mojo. Fail.

12:58: Alastair Campbell tweets: @campbellclaret Look forward to Cameron providing the evidence that I falsified government documents. Given there is none, could be a long wait.

(BTW, this morning Palace announced it, too, had advised Cameron about Coulson. Denied by Dave.)

Ann Clwd: As Dave can't smell a rat within his midst, can he be sure he doesn't have any more dodgy geezers in his team?

Dave says he never knew if Neil Wallis advised Coulson while he was in Downing Street. Opposition cruel to amnesiacs. Asked again for the name of the company hired to vet Andy Coulson. Again stonewalls.

13:47: What's fast emerging is that David Cameron is extremely slippery on several fronts.
1) Which company vetted Andy Coulson for Downing Street? What did they find? Did they donate to the Tories?
2) Did David Cameron ever discuss the BSkyB bid with News International figures? He has still not categorically denied it but has slid around it. "No inappropriate conversations."
3) Despite the Murdoch's pledges to change, they are refusing to release Harbottle & Lewis from their confidentially regarding the email letter denying there was a case to answer, whereas Lord Macdonald found evidence of wrongdoing within five minutes.

UPDATE: After admirable pressure on Cameron from Labour at PMQs, Culture Sec Jeremy Hunt let the cat out of the bag that there had been conversations between the PM and NI about BSkyB. Cameron has had to admit that his weasel words were attempting to deny the fact that he had spoken to NI executives (presumably Rebekah Brooks) about the BSkyB bid but still insists there was nothing "inappropriate".

Not only that, but it now turns out that, unlike communications directors Alastair Campbell, Dave Hill and Michael Ellam, Andy Coulson was never put through top security vetting. Or, as one tweeter put it, because Cameron was neutering Nick Clegg at the time.

News International has released Harbottle & Lewis from their confidentiality agreement so they can defend themselves and now dish the dirt. Talk about rats in a sack.

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