David Cameron at the Leveson inquiry as-it-happened
Review our live coverage after the prime minister took on Robert Jay and Lord Justice Leveson in five mammoth hours of questioning.
09:30 – Good morning, everyone, and welcome to our live coverage of day 3,896 of the Leveson inquiry. This one is the biggest so far, for the prime minister – the man who set this inquiry up in the first place – is to spend the day being grilled by it. How David Cameron performs will be critical towards determining how damaged he will continue to take from the phone-hacking scandal and the whole messy mess that is the flawed system which governs politicians' relationships with the press. This is set to be a long day: the schedule is one of questioning from 10:00 until 13:00 and then from 14:00 to 16:30, so it's not as if this is going to be a rushed job. That's just as well, for David Cameron has a lot of questions to answer.
09:35 – For the prime minister, the inquiry he set up at the height of the phone-hacking scandal last year is nothing less than a trial of his conduct. Put simply, no one has more to lose than the leader of the Conservative party.
Cameron is vulnerable on three fronts. Firstly comes the phone-hacking scandal, linked to the prime minister by his decision to hire News of the World's former editor Andy Coulson as his director of communications. This is partly a question of judgement. In the light of what we know now, was this the Tory leader's worst decision? Cameron can expect detailed questions about the vetting process used on Coulson. Even at its most rudimentary, how much did Cameron probe Coulson's knowledge of phone-hacking at the News of the World?
Then comes their discussion of the issue while Cameron was in No 10. Coulson told Leveson that he had only discussed phone-hacking with Cameron briefly while in office. How much did he know about what had really gone on at the tabloid?
Cameron's second vulnerability is over the cosiness of his relationship with the Murdochs and their cronies. That seems to be summed up in the texts which Cameron sent to Rebekah Brooks, signing them 'lol' (he meant lots of love). The prime minister acted just the same as his many predecessors in dealing with the Murdochs. Unlike Miliband, who was not in a senior enough position, or Clegg, who was out of power and therefore relevance, Cameron spent many years becoming friendly with the media mogul, his family and close allies. The prime minister should expect a series of questions examining his actions and motivations during the period before the summer of 2011, when amid the heat of the phone-hacking scandal politicians were finally able to make a break with the past for good.
The final vulnerability comes over the government's handling of News Corp's BSkyB takeover bid. This is not just about the conduct of Jeremy Hunt, who Cameron has resolutely defended. It is about Cameron's decision to hand the obviously pro-takeover Hunt responsibility for the decision in the first place, and his reluctance to refer Hunt to the independent adviser on ministerial behaviour. His protection of Hunt is widely viewed as being a reflection of the weakness of his own position. So there's a strong sense Thursday is going to be about damage limitation.
The temptation to steal the headlines by hinting at his own attitudes to the future of press regulation – without attempting to prejudge Lord Justice Leveson's findings, of course – will be very strong.
09:40 – An awful lot to look forward to, then. I am going to stock up on junk food to get me through the day, and will return shortly before 10:00 when we're due to get underway…
09:55 – Having prematurely consumed all my junk food I am now ready for a day of glorious as-it-happens live-blogging. The usual procedure is that it gets to 10am and we find ourselves scratching our heads. There is no Leveson. There is no feed from court room 73. What is happening? Fortunately there is no need to panic. Lord Justice Leveson – whose first name, you may not know, is Brian – is merely keeping us waiting. Let's see whether he dares keep the PM waiting this morning. Just a few minutes to go until showtime now.
10:03 – No sign of anything on the live feed just yet, but tweets emerging from the room inform us that Robert Jay, the inquiry's QC has gone for tie variously described as "blood-orange" and "red". Significant? Read into this what you will…
10:05 – And here we are. Crikey! It actually is blood-orange. Cameron takes the oath, confirming his full name: "David William Donald Cameron."
10:06 – We begin with an interesting question about Cameron's time as a special adviser in the early 1990s. Jay's first proper question is about whether he ever expressed views which weren't those of his minister's. "I can't think of particular instances," Cameron says.
10:10 – We move on quickly to David Cameron's period at Carlton. Jay wants to know when he developed his contacts with journalists, and when those relationships first began. This was a "formative period", Cameron says. Exactly.
10:11 – There are five categories of questions, Jay explains. Heading number one is 'general perspectives on the development of media issues'. So that should be fun.
10:12 – Off-the-record discussions, Cameron says, are an opportunity for people to understand "more about you". The questioning is rather sporadic so far. "Sometimes you strke up a good and strong relationship, sometimes you struggle." You're telling me, Dave, you're telling me.
10:15 – Some interesting views from Cameron about politicians' attitudes towards the press. "It's a bit like asking farmers about the weather – we're always going to complain." He says newspapers are always trying to find an angle on a story, rather than just reporting what happened. "There has been a change, but I think that's a lot to do with technology… rather than anything else." From the politician's point of view, and from the government's, Cameron says this has been a "change for the worse". This is fascinating… Cameron does not usually get an opportunity to opine on big-picture issues like this. He is appearing in a different light than usual.
10:19 – "Sometimes it feels like you're being shouted at rather than spoken to," Cameron complains, talking about newspaper coverage. But newspaper campaigning is often very valuable, he says. Initial reaction to Cameron's style is that he is being tediously dull – magnificently so, in fact – but I disagree. This is really interesting, because it shows the PM in a sort of elder statesmen type role well before his time. Not that I'm saying he's especially good at this, mind…
10:23 – Cameron's take on the challenges of 24-hour news are that politicians have to be prepared to "take a hit" every so often. That's what he means by "distance", not sitting under a 24-hour news channel TV screen. "If you do that you get completely buried by the 24-hour news agenda." This, Jay says, is what John Major called 'constructive tension'. Cameron agrees. I sense a quote coming now. "In the last 20 years the relationship has not been right, it's been too close. I think we need to try and get it on a better footing." Hmmm.
10:30 – Cameron rejects the idea that transparency is sufficient to fix the problem. He then says he thinks Ed Miliband made a good point about something or other: that is significant, as it sends a signal that Cameron is trying to be 'above politics', here. The PM will be keen to give the impression he has left party politics at the door, and just found a way of demonstrating that. And, a few minutes later, another example of this: "I thought Tony Blair's evidence to you was quite powerful…"
10:31 – Now Jay is asking about the impact that the press-politician relationship has had on regulatory issues. They've been getting in the way of each other, he explains.
10:32 – Cameron says he read Blair's 'feral beasts' speech a few days ago. He says there were lots of good ideas, but no real solution.
10:34 – The PM sums up his regulation point: "Politicians have been focused on getting their message across rather than regulation."
10:38 – Cameron addresses the news/opinion nightmare, which Gordon Brown described at the beginning of the week as a "conflation of fact and opinion". Cameron is more practical. "It's rather a forlorn hope to think that you can somehow separate them," he says.
10:46 – Cameron concedes that the "truly dreadful things" which triggered the inquiry demonstrate that politicians' steps to improve the situation have not actually been decisive. "This is a cathartic moment," he declares. Very grand.
10:49 – Here's an interesting question from Jay, who suggests that the relationship between press and politicians might have been "transactional". Cameron says the idea of "overt deals" is just "nonsense". He also disagrees with the idea that there was a covert, "nod and a wink" attitude. Jay then suggests that judgements might have been "clouded" by personal relationships becoming involved. This is the tricky question for Cameron. He says a bit of "care" is sufficient to negotiate the minefield of personal relationships getting in the way. "I like to think," he says, that he had achieved that.
10:50 – Jay calls briefing against politicians, and other day-to-day political realities, "vices". Cameron says there's no "catch-all" answer to this problem, avoiding whether he thinks there is actually a problem here at all.
10:52 – Now the PM is on the offensive, "questioning the motives" of journalists who need to come up with a news story or angle. "The volume nob has sometimes just been turned really high in our press, and I'm not sure that does anyone any favours." What an utterly bizarre quote.
10:55 – Cameron's personal approach is the next area of the PM's evidence being looked at. Jay wants to know if there is a specific strategy for approaching media people. Cameron explains the approach starts with the policies, and from there moves to asking about where the government can have "impact". Most important, he says, is "the television", because "that is the most important part of communication".
10:59 – After explaining why he doesn't want to "kick" a sector which is struggling, Cameron proceeds to lay into regional newspapers, who he claims are making a policy point when they moan about the big society not helping them out. "The more rules and codes we create, the more difficult to make sure that everyone abides by them." Let's just revert to anarchy, perhaps. He then says he's happy to amend the ministerial code through two "modest additions". Significant – I'll look into this and will probably be reporting on it properly later on.
11:01 – Cameron says he went through his address book with his permanent secretary and talked over what all his friends did, to identify any potential commercial clash with government interests and avoid a conflict of interest in the future. "It's difficult stuff to get right, this."
11:03 – "There are times," the PM says, when a political party leader is especially keen to get a good editorial line. At general elections, perhaps. "At times we would say we'd love a bit more support from your newspaper." Very carefully rationed pleading, then.
11:06 – David Cameron says he won the Conservative party leadership because of "television", essentially – it wasn't much to do with the newspapers, or the internet. This was 2005, after all. "We didn't want to go down the same route as everything Labour had done," Cameron explains, but he acknowledges that he was constantly flying off to meet newspaper proprietors and the like. There was so much activity – "including flying off to meet the owners of the Telegraph" – he accepts that he wasn't trying a completely different approach to Labour.
11:12 – A fascinating statistics is now unveiled by Robert Jay. In opposition Cameron had 1,404 entries, equating to around 26 meetings or interviews a month, or more than one a week day. In government he has had about 13 a month – about half that. That reflects the Tory leader's desire to do less when in government. That ignores the fact that when in opposition he didn't have much else to do, whereas in power there's the awkward distraction of having to run the country. Cameron refers to this: "In government you're making real decisions."
11:15 – "There are moments when you think these are hours of your life which you're not going to get back," Cameron says, referring to the more tedious kinds of media engagement.
11:17 – Further analysis from Jay. For the period in opposition there are ten entries for Rupert Murdoch, 15 for James Murdoch and 19 for Rebekah Brooks. This doesn't include Cameron's weekends, the prime minister explains. He is being as helpful as possible in explaining his records are completely unreliable.
11:21 – August 16th 2008: and a dinner with Elizabeth Murdoch, Rebekah Wade and Matthew Freud. Jay wants to know whether this was part of the infamous Santorini visit. Cameron gets a bit confused. He cross-checks, and says yes. Jay wonders whether Rupert Murdoch was also present. "I'm extremely sorry, I don't think that is right. I think you've spotted an error for which I'm sorry." A minor victory for the inquiry counsel, there. With that they break for a bit. To give the shorthand writer (and all the many live-bloggers out there too, of course) a short rest.
11:32 – And we're back. Jay dives in with some questions about meetings with Paul Dacre and other Mail reporters.
11:37 – A rather boring patch just then about the details of this or that meeting. Then comes something interesting: Cameron on media issues, and the way his views linked up with those of the Murdochs. "They're not really the same views!" he says, laughing. Good use of laughter as a way of underlining a point being very subtly made.
11:40 – The hash-tag #Camnesia seems very appropriate right now. But Cameron can recall getting a "hint" that the Murdochs would switch the Sun's report to the Conservatives "at some stage during the Labour conference". That clashes directly with Rupert Murdoch's own evidence, which was that the precise timing wasn't decided until very close to the occasion.
11:42 – Around this time, ie 2009, there wasn't much chit-chat between Cameron and Murdoch about Ofcom. The PM had previously stated that Murdoch was interested in 'other policy issues'. Cameron says this meant defence, and the like. Specifically, that James Murdoch would have preferred six aircraft carriers, rather than just two. A very specific number indeed!
11:45 – "I recall the drink, I don't recall the dinner." Excellent quote from Cameron to be taken out of context.
11:47 – December 15th 2009 was the first meeting with Rupert Murdoch since the Sun's support had switched. The conservation then was predominantly about strategic and economic issues, he says. "In my dealings with Rupert Murdoch most of the conversation has been about big international political issues."
11:48 – Frederic Michel's name comes up for the first time – he met Cameron in Davos at a dinner the Tory leader held.
11:55 – One of those little periods has just passed where absolutely nothing of significance has taken place… But here's an interesting point. The way the PM works now seems to have overtaken the official way Downing Street works. The civil service gives Cameron official, formal business through his red box all the time. But Cameron also gets email and texts from friends on a more informal basis…
11:56 – Cameron is now talking about how the Tories dealt with the Sun newspaper. He explains that the idea was to talk about issues that "directly appeal to their readers". Whereas, of course, "if you're talking to the Financial Times you talk about Basel III."
11:58 – Andy Coulson's name is mentioned for the first time. Jay wonders whether Rebekah Wade/Brooks' strong relationship with Gordon Brown meant it might be harder to win her over. Cameron says he just wanted this centre-right newspaper "back into the fold". He wanted to demonstrate that Sun readers "were moving in a Conservative direction". Again, the readers: that's what it's all about, as Brooks and Murdoch explained at length. And here's Cameron using what critics might call the same cover…
12:00 – Jay wants to know when Cameron sensed Brooks might be happy to support the Tories. The Tory leader says it was a gradual process. He namechecks Sun journalist Trevor Kavanagh as a potential ally. Jay presses Cameron on this, but the PM struggles. "I can't give you a date." Jay still isn't giving up. "Was it months, weeks, years?" Cameron: "Um………………… it certainly wasn't weeks. More than that, but I can't really give you any more than that."
12:03 – Now the relationship between Brooks and Cameron. They got to know each other because of their professional roles. But they "struck up a friendship" and their relationship got stronger when she married a neighbour of his, Charlie Brooks. "The quantity and tone of text messages," Jay refers to next. He very quickly gets Cameron to agree with the "gist" of her evidence – presumably that covers the 'lol' text fiasco. How often did they speak? "It felt like I telephoned her a lot less than Gordon Brown," he says. "But I can't put numbers on it."
12:04 – As the general election process approached Brooks and Cameron saw each other a lot more – that's the 'gist' of the most recent exchanges. They spoke to each other roughly once a week on the phone.
12:07 – A text message from Brooks to Cameron in October 2009 is looking at next. The first bit is redacted, but this is the bit which we've been able to see:
But seriously I do understand the issue with the Times. Let's discuss over country supper soon. On the party it was because I had asked a number of NI people to Manchester post endorsement and they were disappointed not to see you. But as always Sam was wonderful (and I thought it was OE's were charm personfied!) I am so rooting for you tomorrow not just as a proud friend but because professionally we're definitely in this together! Speech of your life? Yes he Cam!
The 'OE's' referred to are Old Etonians. NI, of course, is News International.
12:09 – The 'professionally' phrase, Cameron explains, was that the Sun had backed the Tories. So Jay says the adverb 'professionally' was that they were 'bound together'. "We were going to be pushing the same political agenda," Cameron says.
12:10 – Next, the 'country supper'. Was that normal? "Yes," says Cameron, sounding a bit miffed. "Because we're neighbours."
12:13 – Jay has moved on quickly to the McCann case, and the question of whether or not Cameron was influenced by Brooks' influence in it. "I don't remember any specific pressure being put on me," he says. #camnesia once again.
12:16 – Next, Jay turns to Gordon Brown, who said there was an "express deal" which Cameron made with one of the Murdochs to cut back Ofcom and the BBC in return for more political support. "It is absolute nonsense from start to finish," the PM says. "Gordon Brown was very angry and disappointed… He has cooked up an entirely specious and entirely unjustified conspiracy to, I dunno, justify his anger." Cameron is very, very good at Brown-bashing. He's had a lot of practice over the years, and isn't having any difficulty dealing with his predecessor in No 10. "There was no overt deal for support, there was no covert deal, there was no nods and winks. There was a Conservative politician, me, trying to win over newspapers, proprietors… but not trading policies for that support."
12:21 – In March 2009 Cameron announced that he would effectively freeze the BBC licence fee. I remember it well – I was there, in the St Stephen's Club in central London. Jay asks whether this policy stuck all the way until the 2010 general election. Of course it was, Cameron says. He talks about the Tories' taskforce on the issue, which was led by former director-general Greg Dyke. Cameron talks a lot about how Dyke, hardly a "shrinking violet", is the last person the Tories would put in charge if they had a "secret agenda". But Jay points out the panel featured a "range of views" – and that none of them were "shrinking violets".
12:23 – Scroll down to have another look at that Rebekah Brooks text to Cameron. The 'yes he Cam!' bit is rather… well, excruciating.
12:27 – Time to look at Andy Coulson next. He is the man linking Cameron most directly with the phone-hacking scandal, so this is going to a key period in the inquiry's evidence.
12:30 – Cameron says he was looking for a "big-hitter" and someone who could cope with a lot of pressure. Tabloid editors "bring something that others wouldn't," he says. With so much news taking place, he says, "it literally comes in on top of your head." Erm – not literally. Pardon me.
12:34 – Jay wants to know whether George Osborne's advice was important to Cameron's thinking. Yes, it was important, he says, but "it was my decision… I don't try to shuffle off any responsibility to anyone else". By inference, a clear admission that he made a mistake there.
12:36 – Jay is pressing Cameron on the Brooks link to the Coulson hire. Cameron gives some more details about the Coulson hire. They'd both met him beforehand – Dave and George. There were then chit-chats, and interviews with Cameron's chief of staff Ed Llewellyn. Which is interesting, but what about Brooks? "I wasn't seeking a reference," Cameron says. "In the end it was my decision. I was satisfied this was the right thing to have a former tabloid editor to help us with our media and communications." Jay says character and integrity might have had something to do with it – but Cameron can't recall whether this entered into the conversation with Brooks.
12:39 – Phone-hacking was discussed in the meeting in Cameron's leader of the opposite office in parliament – the one where he finally decided to hire Coulson, he says. Jay says there were separate conversations afterwards with him. Assurances were then requested during a phone conversation in late May… weren't they? There seems to be a mix-up between Coulson's account and that of Cameron's. Oh dear.
12:42 – One thing Cameron can remember, which can't be double-checked of course, is that he talked with Ed Llewellyn saying how important it was that he sought the assurances. "The key thing is I asked for assurances and I got them, and that was the basis on which I employed him." A bit of a sense of bluster from Cameron now over this…
12:46 – Alas, we are now seeing some repetition from the PM. But amid all the bluster is this very revealing statement of fact, something we haven't heard before: "This was a controversial appointment. It has come back to haunt both him and me." Sounds like a good headline to me. Cameron 'haunted' by Coulson appointment…
12:48 – Jay says tabloid editors are associated with some of the worst parts of the culture, ethics and practice of the press. But Cameron just says: "I made my decision."
12:50 – There was no independent verification of the oral undertaking he gave you, Jay asks? "No, but this issue had been investigated by others," Cameron says, with the air of one conceding a major point. He points out the police hadn't uncovered what was going on. So why was he given a second chance, Jay asks? "I thought he had done the honourable thing," Cameron says, in resigning from the News of the World.
12:52 – "I wasn't just after any old person from News International or the Daily Mail or wherever," he protests. The question, Jay says, was slightly more nuanced. Was it a factor? Cameron says the contacts, knowledge and experience were all important – but the fact that he was at News International didn't enter into the "calculation".
12:54 – Next, an opportunity for Cameron to moan lots about hindsight. "You don't make decisions with 20/20 hindsight. I will be held accountable for that decision. I don't try to run away from it. I just tried to explain why I made it." Jay moves on, but then Leveson himself intervenes to ask a question. It appears to be about 'hug a hoodie' – a misrepresentation of Cameron's famous, er, hug-a-hoodie- speech. He never actually said it, but it had been misreported by Coulson himself. Cameron says all he mentioned was talking about the need for "love" for young people. "It was frustrating that he'd come up with this headline… was it completely unfair and wrong? That's what newspapers do – they make a point. If you're worried about headlines, don't make speeches about love."
12:58 – Cameron didn't see any evidence in the 2009 Guardian article that the undertakings he's, um, undertaken at the time of hiring Coulson were wrong. On the other hand, he wanted Coulson's reassurances to be repeated, so he asked him. "Was there an inkling of doubt in your mind?" Jay asks. As those reassurances were repeated, and that the select committee was happy too, Cameron seemed satisfied. He says the PCC had accepted his world. So had the select committee, the police and the Crown Prosecution SErvice. "This was not just me accepting an assurance and blocking out everything that had happened subsequently. It was a whole series of institutions accepting that view." That is a stirring defence of his decision to take on Coulson, and probably the highlight of the evidence session so far. Fortunately the lunch break is approaching, so I'm going to able to write that up into a story…
12:59 – And with that, it's time for lunch. So the morning session is completed, and they're coming back at 14:00. I'd better write up that news story first of all, but – as part of my preparation for it – will go through what I've written first and present you with some bullet-point highlights…
13:13 – Here's a summary of the morning's highlights:
- Cameron said he thinks the 24-hour news agenda and technology developments have been a "change for the worse" from the point of view of politicians.
- He outlined some of his problems with the current state of the relationship between politicians and the press: "Politicians have been focused on getting their message across rather than regulation." And, on the general tone of newspaper coverage: "Sometimes it feels like you're being shouted at rather than spoken to."
- Cameron has denied the idea that these relationships are somehow transactional. This is just "nonsense". He used the same word when given the opportunity to rebut Gordon Brown's allegations about the Tories and the Murdochs. "He has cooked up an entirely specious and entirely unjustified conspiracy to, I dunno, justify his anger."
- In opposition Cameron had 1,404 entries, equating to around 26 meetings or interviews a month, or more than one a week day. In government he has had about 13 a month – about half that. For the period in opposition there are ten entries for Rupert Murdoch, 15 for James Murdoch and 19 for Rebekah Brooks.
- David Cameron downplayed the extent to which his conversations with the Murdochs were about media issues. "In my dealings with Rupert Murdoch most of the conversation has been about big international political issues," he said.
- Rebekah Brooks sent David Cameron a lengthy text message in October 2009 in which she told the Tory leader she was "so rooting for him" ahead of his leader's speech at the Conservative party conference. The text concluded: "Speech of your life? Yes he Cam!"
- Jay got Cameron to concede there were at least two errors in his evidence.
- On the decision to hire Andy Coulson, Cameron made clear he took responsibility. "It was my decision… I don't try to shuffle off any responsibility to anyone else… I was satisfied this was the right thing to have a former tabloid editor to help us with our media and communications."
- He offered a rare insight into his assessment of the damage that decision eventually meant for him: "This was a controversial appointment. It has come back to haunt both him and me."
- He said he decided to give Coulson a "second chance" because "I thought he had done the honourable thing" by resigning from News of the World.
- He offered a stirring defence of his decision to hire Coulson, pointing out that the Press Complaints Commission, culture media and sport select committee, Metropolitan police and the Crown Prosecution Service had also accepted his word. "This was not just me accepting an assurance and blocking out everything that had happened subsequently. It was a whole series of institutions accepting that view."
- Finally, two choice quotes from the morning's session. Referring to the more tedious kinds of media engagement, Cameron said: "There are moments when you think these are hours of your life which you're not going to get back."
- Another choice quote: "I recall the drink, I don't recall the dinner."
14:07 – We're back over the lunch break, and it appears the prime minister has been on the phone. He's spoken to his wife, whose diaries suggest that the Camerons met up with the Brooks' about once every six weeks during the period in the run-up to the general election. "The great value of wives, prime minister," Lord Justice Leveson observes. "Indeed," Cameron says wearily.
14:09 – Cameron says a handful of people had expressed concerns about the Coulson issue before the 2010 genera election – including Tory backbencher Andrew Tyrie, now the chair of the Treasury select committee.
14:13 – Cameron shirks responsibility for the vetting of Coulson after DC became prime minister. But he says it's a complete "red herring". "People are looking for some abnormality – I think there is none." Anyone who's seen The West Wing will know Camerons' right about this.
14:15 – Cameron says he was more interested in the birth of his daughter than Andy Coulson on the day of the New York Times article in September 2010. A better excuse than many of the others he's had for not remembering various things today. On this occasion, he just can't remember whether he talked the matter over with his communications chief.
14:17 – No 10 declined an invitation from the Metropolitan police for a briefing about phone-hacking because it would have had the "perception" of being inappropriate.
14:19 – Cameron then talks about the "number of discussions" he had with Coulson ahead of Coulson's "impending resignation". What about chats with Brooks, Jay asks? Cameron can't recall "specifics", but says it was probably something to do with the civil cases underway at the time.
14:20 – Next Jay gives the PM an opportunity to opine on phone-hacking. He uses the word "failure" a lot. "There was a series of failures." "It took a cataclysmic event – the appalling revelations about what happened to Milly Dowler's family" – to bring it out into the open. Cameron says "for whatever reason" parliament didn't get to the bottom of it. "All of those organisations have to ask 'why not'?" Parliament was misled, of course, which might have something to do with it!
14:25 – The last five minutes have been spent on the BSkyB bid – the next big chunk of Jay's battle plan. Cameron starts off by being extremely cagy – he is thoroughly on the defensive here when it comes to his own views, those of George Osborne, and of course those of Jeremy Hunt.
14:27 – In Hunt's note, Cameron says, "he was demonstrating the difficulties and dangers of being a ministers and dealing with this". Cameron is focusing his energies on defending Hunt now, having defended himself earlier. Jay points out the note from Hunt to Cameron was sent when Vince Cable was in charge of the decision.
14:29 – A very lengthy spiel from Cameron now about the process by which responsibility for the bid was shifted from Cable to Hunt. This, of course, is Cameron defending himself again. Which is why he's so long-winded… He finishes: "I accept there was controversy but I think the backing of two permanent secretaries and a lawyer is a strong state of affairs."
14:36 – Another Lord Justice Leveson intervention now. He's interested in the decision in the hands of a minister who would have his own "extrinsic" – what?! – views. He means well-established and already-formed views. Cameron agrees. But he disputes the premise of the question, highlighting planning as an example. But "the point is slightly different where it concerns the media", Leveson explains. Cameron's happy to concede this. "It's a bit like asking football fans about Manchester United – everyone's got a view," he says. "There may be a case for taking politicians out of this decision-making altogether," Cameron says. He is all respect to the judge. "Sorry, I'm banging on."
14:41 – Boxing Day 2010 was Charlie Brooks' sister's house – Cameron says he's not sure whether there was any kind of conversation at all. That fits with Brooks' evidence.
14:44 – Cameron carefully backs up Osborne's claim that it was Jeremy Heywood who came up with the idea of transferring responsibility to Hunt, after reliving – in detail – the enormous kerfuffle within government that followed the news breaking about Cable's comments. "I was a prime minister in search of a solution, and this seemed to be a relatively neat and straightforward solution. We did consider the issues surrounding it." The emphasis on 'did', there.
14:45 – Jay suggests the decision was put very quickly. "The haste was it was 3 o'clock in the afternoon… this was a major problem for the government." Cameron says the 24-hour news environment demands an answer. No "half-days" here. So the government spent a "good two hours" talking it over, before making the announcement. "I don't think it was particularly rushed." Cameron says the coalition's reputation for "not dithering" was at risk. Jay says this decision might have taken place more reflectively "in a bygone age". Sometimes I think he's from a bygone age…
14:50 – Interestingly, Cameron disputes Osborne's claim that the decision to appoint Hunt was subject to legal advice. But wait – the PM is saying that there was a need to check Hunt's public statements… so it may be a case of there not being much difference, after all. It's not entirely clear. In fact it appears Cameron was asked to consider an email from the legal head at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to Cameron's chief of staff Ed Llewellyn which stated that Hunt's comments were "not helpful" and "tend to pre-judge issue", according to Tom Harper of the Evening Standard newspaper on Twitter. On the other hand, Tim Shipman of the Mail says that a government lawyer ruled that Hunt's biased comments before he was handed power over the bid "did not constitute a legal impediment" to him taking on the role.
14:53 – After much tussling around, Cameron clears the decks by stating: "If anyone had told me that Jeremy Hunt couldn't do the job, I wouldn't have given him the job." There's a long silence as Jay allows that to sink in.
14:55 – Cameron's voice is starting to get a bit hoarse now. Maybe he should borrow one from Rebekah Brooks – no, wait. That doesn't work. Ahem.
14:56 – To July 2011, when the phone-hacking scandal "blew up", and when Jay says Cameron was keen to "derail" the BSkyB bid. The PM says he "wouldn't quite put it like that". He is once again very much on the defensive.
15:02 Jay invites Cameron to give his views on how to improve the state of affairs. Cameron says step number one is reforming the way regulation works. Step number two is looking at how governments deal with quasi-judicial decisions, how it works with special advisers – "there are a set of things we can do to improve the handling of those issues." Jay, confused, says he's got down three points. Uh oh. Awkward. At least it gives Cameron a chance to repeat what he'd just said. He again lists three things. Oh dear. "Two sets of issues, but with some subsets."
15:03 – Jay is interested in the 'lessons for politicians' – and, more relevantly, ministers. I sense news is about to happen. "It is not properly dealt with in the ministerial code and perhaps we can write to the inquiry with some suggestions. I want to consult about that to make sure we get it right. The role of special advisers in quasi-judicial proceedings, we need to get that right too."
15:05 – Cameron wants more training for special advisers. "That is the main improvement we could make." Do they need more supervision, Jay asks? Cameron agrees that's important. He wants better "management" by both civil servants and ministers. Jay says responsibility for their discipline resides with the minister – but Cameron says really it's with him. Jay says that's just "theoretical", and claims there's a problem with their "supervision".
15:07 – Leveson seems to have sensed that Cameron is dictating to him what to include in the inquiry, so he reasserts the power of the judiciary by doing a bit of lording it – lord justice-ing it – over Cameron. "I'm not trying to ask you to straitjacket me, and I'm certainly not…" he falters. "I understand," Cameron says.
15:11 – Here Leveson says that comparatively young men and women, "devoted" to their work and "highly intelligent" – he namechecks Adam Smith – are nevertheless not being supervised very well. Cameron says when he was a spad there wasn't any annual appraisal; these have subsequently been introduced, he says. But he says they're useful because they undertake a lot of political work for ministers. So the civil servant can go on being apolitical… "I'd hate it if out of all of this we killed off the idea of good special advisers helping to keep the separation of civil servants and their ministers." Leveson seems pleased with this. They seem to be negotiating a joint position on this.
15:13 – This atmosphere of happy compromise is shattered by Robert Jay, who questions whether special advisers can go beyond their ken in tough decision-making. Jay says this could give them the same quasi-judicial attributes of a minister. A good point – but they're not "suited or trained" to it, are they? Cameron says part of the role is "simply to soak up information". That sounds like a euphemism for 'be lobbied'.
15:15 – Next Cameron is asked about lobbying by the press – does he have any views on this? The answer is: not really. "The BBC can be quite an aggressive lobbyist," he says. Bit of singling out there. "We must make sure this is treated properly."
15:16 – Cameron can barely believe the suggestion that journalists might "go soft" on politicians because they're friendly. It seems fairly preposterous – although I know it does happen sometimes. The PM waves that one away, saying it's simply something that individuals have to deal with. He's right.
15:18 – Cameron had asked God (Gus O'Donnell) how wide the transparency declarations ought to go. Going too wide would lead to scandals in the press because certain friends were missed out, he explains.
15:19 – Time for the afternoon break, now. It's been very interesting so far, with Cameron defending both Hunt and himself over the BSkyB takeover bid. This, I think, is the key quote from the prime minister:
If anyone had told me that Jeremy Hunt couldn't do the job, I wouldn't have given him the job.
15:32 – Aaaaaaaaaand we're back. Cameron is talking again about the need to "create more distance" between journalists and politicians.
15:34 – The PM is repeating himself now. Talking about regulation, he says that the shape of things to come will be shaped by newspapers. "What's taken a long time to go wrong, I suspect, will take quite a long time to put right." It's all about "respect", he says. Politicians are acting – now journalists need to respond. Cameron even suggests some of Gordon Brown's complaints about the lobby should be acted on.
15:36 – Cameron doesn't want a "stitch-up" from politicians "getting together to clobber the press… this must not be revenge for the expenses scandal". He says politicians need to work out "what needs to be done" on a cross-party basis.
15:37 – Jay says this fits in very neatly with the final section of his evidence, which is on lessons for the press. I thought we were talking about that already, but there we go. Cameron says the real test comes for families which get caught up in media "maelstroms" – like the Dowlers and the McCanns. "Are we really protecting people who have been caught up and absolutely thrown to the wolves?"
15:40 – Interestingly, Cameron says he doesn't think that self-regulation has necessarily failed. He wants a system that is seen to be independent, that can't be opted out of, that has real penalties and have an ability to find out what happened. It has to have the confidence of the public and stop scandals. "If it can do those things, that's the test," Cameron declares. Sounds like a shopping list. He distinguishes between newspapers and broadcasters – the latter are more reasonably included in a regulatory framework. "I'm sorry to have given you this hot potato, but I think that's the test," Cameron says. "I don't think you sound sorry about that at all," Lord Justice Leveson replies, to laughter in the courtroom.
15:49 – Leveson is articulating an idea he had "some months ago" that you could legislate to establish the "structure" around which a regulatory body combined of industry figures and "independent" members might tick all the boxes. What does the PM think about this? "I suppose it could," Cameron says, sounding very cautious. He proceeds to talk for ages without committing himself either way. What he wants is a simple which "ordinary people" can use to get redress. At the moment it's just the wealthy who can get a remedy by hiring lots of lawyers.
15:52 – People suffer from an "understandable neuralgia" over media regulation, Cameron says. Interesting way of putting it. After a lengthy section of mutual hand-wringing Jay asks about Michael Gove's views – his fears about a "chilling effect" on the press if this process goes wrong. Cameron says he has a slightly different view.
15:53 – "We've got to bear in mind who we're doing this for. If families like the Dowlers feel this will change the way they've been treated we will have done our job properly." Interesting use of 'we' – they're all in this together, he suggests.
15:55 – Lord Justice Leveson says it's not just the Dowlers – it "encompasses all those whose privacy or rights have been intruded on without any sufficient public interest. Would that be fair?" Cameron says he agrees. But he says it's "different" for those who put themselves in the public eye. That's why he prefers looking at regulation rather than privacy laws.
15:56 – A hilarious exchange now, as Cameron refers to the story which emerged earlier this week about him leaving his eight-year-old daughter Nancy in the pub. Ordinary people, the PM says, "could probably safely leave their child in the pub and not have the same attention focused on them". He adds: "Which I don't complain about at all." Lord Justice Leveson says: "It was quite interesting of those in the newsrooms who reported them who said 'that happened to me or my child'." Cameron says he was surprised by the number of members of parliament who had been left in "butcher's shops" or "motorway stations". He finishes, to laughter: "It helped me understand my colleagues a lot better."
15:58 – They're wrapping up, now; Leveson is taking a break after this week, he says. Having talked to four former prime ministers "it puts the onus on getting it right rather high", he says. So he's got to do some thinking. Fair enough…
16:00 – Finishing half-an-hour early! This is excellent news. I'm going to go through the afternoon session and pick out some more highlights… the funniest moment was definitely at the end. Cameron is a master of chucking in a joke just when things are wrapping up. The sketchwriters, who have been suffering in the court room all day, will be able to go out with a smile on their face.
16:17 – OK, here's my summary of the afternoon session…
- Cameron has been focused on looking out for ordinary people, like the Dowler and McCann families, who get caught up in media "maelstroms". They can't afford legal redress and so that's why he's interested in fixing the regulatory system. "We've got to bear in mind who we're doing this for," the prime minister said. "If families like the Dowlers feel this will change the way they've been treated we will have done our job properly."
- "I was a prime minister in search of a solution, and this seemed to be a relatively neat and straightforward solution. We did consider the issues surrounding it." Cameron issued a stern defence of his decision to shift the quasi-judicial responsibility for ruling on News Corp's BSkyB takeover bid from Vince Cable to Jeremy Hunt. "I accept there was controversy but I think the backing of two permanent secretaries and a lawyer is a strong state of affairs," he said. Despite spending just two hours on the decision he claimed "I don't think it was particularly rushed." Underlining his point, Cameron said: "If anyone had told me that Jeremy Hunt couldn't do the job, I wouldn't have given him the job."
- He said he would look at reforming the system by which quasi-judicial decisions are taken, telling Leveson: "There may be a case for taking politicians out of this decision-making altogether."
- Cameron and Leveson seemed to clash over who was giving recommendations to who, after the PM said he would write to Leveson with his thoughts on how to reform the special adviser system. "It is not properly dealt with in the ministerial code and perhaps we can write to the inquiry with some suggestions. I want to consult about that to make sure we get it right. The role of special advisers in quasi-judicial proceedings, we need to get that right too." Leveson replied: "I'm not trying to ask you to straitjacket me."
- The final section of the afternoon focused on media regulation. Cameron laid out a system that is seen to be independent, that can't be opted out of, that has real penalties and have an ability to find out what happened. It has to have the confidence of the public and stop scandals. "I'm sorry to have given you this hot potato, but I think that's the test," the prime minister said. "I don't think you sound sorry about that at all," Lord Justice Leveson replied, to laughter in the courtroom.