Milly Dowler's Family Watch PMQs Debate Over Hacking Scandal

Milly Dowler's Family Watch As MPs Collapse Into Point-Scoring

The final session of PMQs before parliament breaks up for the summer turned out to be the most well-attended in months, with MPs crowding at the Bar of the House and also crammed in behind the Speaker's chair.

Up in the galleries sat the family of Milly Dowler. They now have the onerous distinction of being part of the trigger in this series of events, sending shockwaves right to the very top of government and around the world. They watched as David Cameron tried to answer some of the toughest questions he's had to face in his political career so far.

The first question from the Lib Dem Duncan Hames was only ever going to be about phone hacking. He ran off a litany of crimes and moral outrages allegedly carried out by people working for News International, and must have been aware that some of the victims of those practices were looking down on MPs. The Dowlers' tickets for the galleries had been provided by Nick Clegg.

The prime minister responded by describing it as "a firestorm that is engulfing the police and parts of the media". He'd use that phrase again later, but his attitude seemed to suggest that his own office and personal judgement aren't engulfed in that firestorm. Ed Miliband's questions would shortly illustrate that the prime minister is feeling the heat of this, just as much as the police and Rupert Murdoch are.

The Labour leader's questions began in a statesmanlike way, listened to in silence by all sides. Should Rebekah Brooks still be in her job? The PM reiterated to jeers from the other side that Ms Brooks was right to resign, and that her resignation should have been accepted.

Ed Miliband was already on a high today, given that his motion on BSkyB has unanimous support and may not even go to a full vote. He slipped up at PMQs only once, when his second question to the PM included the line, "Does he agree with me - and he clearly does..." Ed Miliband's getting better at PMQs all the time, but is still prone to awkward moments when he fails to think on his feet, asking his questions by rote regardless of what David Cameron's already said.

But this was Ed Miliband's best PMQs since becoming leader, quickly going from statesman to rapier, castigating Rupert Murdoch - "He should recognise the world has changed," - before firing off forensic questions about Andy Coulson, and whether evidence from the Guardian about his unsuitability for public office had been passed to the PM, and if not, why not.

David Cameron excused himself and his chief of staff from any wrongdoing by blaming the Guardian for not being forceful enough in getting the message across to Number 10. The PM wondered why, in two face-to-face meetings with Alan Rusbridger, had the Guardian's editor not raised the Coulson issue with him. Not surprisingly the PM's attempt to blame journalists didn't wash with Labour and didn't seem to impress many Tories either.

In an increasingly noisy chamber some Tory backbenchers were variously shouting 'Tom' and 'Baldwin' back at Ed Miliband, who has finally developed the stamina to plough on and not be barracked by members on the other side. When Cameron said that there should be a full criminal investigation into what went on between the News of the World and the police, Tory backbenchers went wild. The normally sedate Margot James, sitting two rows behind the PM, was barely able to contain herself.

This led to the Speaker's first intervention of the session, accusing Tory backbenchers of orchestrated cheering, something Labour MPs seem to be able to do under his speakership without interference.

Ed Miliband started his final question with his stock accusation of Cameron, "He just doesn't get it," which attracted jeers from the Tories. Cameron then duly accused of Ed Miliband of not getting it either. By this point the Speaker was losing control of the House. Labour MPs smelt blood and had melted into a sea of jeering and banging of feet. The Speaker told the Children's Minister, Tim Loughton, "Try to calm down and behave like an adult ... If not, get out, we will manage without you".

It was apparent that the prime minister had been uncharacteristically rattled by his exchanges with Ed Miliband. An easy question on the Eurozone from Tory MP Matthew Hancock was responded to falteringly.

Later on Tom Watson stood up to huge cheers from Labour, but then the whole House listened to him in silence. Tom Watson has become the conscience of the Commons lately - a remarkable transformation from just a year ago when he was seen as a gatekeeper for Ed Balls. He's been tenacious in trying to raise the issues surrounding phone hacking for years, and now attracts genuine respect from all sides.

So nobody gets it, everyone's turning on each other and any attempt at bipartisanship on how to manage this unfolding "firestorm" descended into point scoring and pantomime. If Milly Dowler's family had come to parliament to see whether MPs could provide them with any answers and leadership, they could easily be forgiven for leaving PMQs disappointed.

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