David Cameron gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry last week. He said, “I can’t remember if it was me or someone else, who suggested, come on, there’s nothing to hide here, just answer the question.”
Which is presumably is why he didn’t. He made the response after being reminded of yet another meeting with the Murdochs that he had forgotten to mention. He said it was “before we became totally transparent”.
Cameron repeatedly found himself unable to regurgitate what he discussed with the Murdochs, Rebekah Brooks and others. Through five hours of evidence he moaned, “I can’t remember”, “I don’t recall” and “I don’t think so”.
But then there was the occasional flash of clarity. “There was no overt deal, there was no covert deal,” he barked. “There were no nods and winks.”
There was nothing sinister about his many dozens of meals with News Corps’ best, it was just like-minded folk enjoying cosy chats.
Cameron feigned memory loss at least 57 times. Here are seven questions he said “I don’t remember” to:
- Did he and James Murdoch discuss the BBC over lunch in 2009?
- Did he and The Sun’s editor Dominic Mohan discuss supporting the Tories over lunch in 2009?
- Did George Osborne obtain assurances from Andy Coulson about phone hacking before Cameron hired him as the Tory spin doctor?
- Did he speak to Rebekah Brooks about Coulson before his Downing Street appointment?
- Has he discussed phone hacking with Rupert Murdoch?
- Did he speak with Jeremy Hunt about the BSkyB takeover bid?
- Was there a conversation about BSkyB—or “much of a conversation at all”—at the Boxing Day 2010 party at Charlie Brooks’ sister’s house?
The answer to all of them is yes. The other 50 weren’t that hard to answer either. The inquiry heard that Cameron had 1,404 meetings with media figures from 2005. They included 10 with Rupert Murdoch, 15 with the mogul’s son James and at least 19 with Brooks.
On the subject of numbers, 33 people have now been arrested under the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Elveden investigation into alleged corrupt payments to public officials.
Last week in addition a City of London Police superintendent was arrested along with a prison officer and a Sun journalist. Which brings us to Rebekah Brooks.
The number of Cameron’s meetings with Brooks still remains a little obscure. Asked how often they got together, Cameron replied, “I don’t think every weekend, I don’t think most weekends. It would depend.”
The two sent texts to each other once or twice a week. Only one was read into the evidence. It was bad enough. On the eve of his speech to the Tory conference in October 2009 Brooks wrote to Cameron, “I am so rooting for you and not just as a personal friend but because professionally we’re definitely in this together”.
Brooks went on to invite the prime minister to a “country supper” and praised him for his Old Etonian “charm”. It ended, “Speech of your life? Yes he Cam!”
Asked if the country supper reference was “the sort of interaction you often had with her?”, the prime minister replied somewhat curtly, “Yes, we were neighbours.”
More than the slightly sickening tone, is the rather grubby reality of the political class.
Brooks is due to appear at Southwark crown court this week charged with perverting the course of justice. She shouldn’t be the only one.
“I had no inappropriate conversations,” has been Cameron’s line on his discussions with the Murdochs. The problem is that his appropriate conversations are corrupt.
The country suppers, dinners on a yacht in the Mediterranean and the drinks in exclusive clubs only happen because Murdoch wants influence and politicians want to give it.
So the surprise is not the revelation that Murdoch rang up Blair to speed up the invasion of Iraq. It is the idea that Blair wasn’t gung ho enough about invading places already.
Polite discussion on the media at Leveson won’t bring down Cameron. But the scandal behind Leveson could.