David Cameron did not have an easy PMQs today. Ed Miliband took the most of the opportunity and made him squirm over phone hacking at the News of the World.
There is no reason Labour should necessarily be making the running on this: it is essentially a non-political matter that politicians could unite behind to give journalists a good kicking. And that’s what Cameron tried to do: backing calls for a public inquiry into the allegations and inviting the other party leaders for talks on how that inquiry should proceed.
The problem is that he is on the back foot about other elements of this story: the bid by News Corp for BSkyB and his relationship with both Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks.
On the first issue, Number 10 would sorely like to be able to find a reason to deny News Corp and Rupert Murdoch the chance to bid for BSkyB, but they are hamstrung by the remit of the review being undertaken by Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary. Hunt is looking at only the issue of media plurality, not the conduct of News Corp or anyone inside it. (Beth Rigby will blog on the legal technicalities of this here later.)
On the second, Cameron has already chosen his friends: there is little he can do to disavow them now. Coulson has already quit Number 10, and Cameron is hardly likely to start calling for the head of an executive at a private company: it would set a worrying precedent and send a bad message to business.
This allows Labour MPs and their leader to make the headway. To that extent, it is reminiscent of MPs’ expenses, the scandal that caught up the whole of Westminster but somehow tainted Gordon Brown worse than it did David Cameron (or Nick Clegg). Perhaps it is inevitable that when a non-political scandal like this blows up, the government will always remain on the back foot, caught between public opinion and the realities of government.