Phone-hacking report puts David Cameron in an uncomfortable position

The prime minister genuinely admires Murdoch, but he may feel uneasy at the sight of his MPs standing by the News Corp boss

David Cameron and his Conservative MPs now face the unappetising political prospect of appearing to defend Rupert Murdoch after four Conservative MPs on the committee refused to declare he was not a fit person to run an international company.

Cameron is a genuine admirer of Murdoch’s business skills and, like his Conservative colleagues on the culture select committee, is likely to argue there is no evidence that he misled the committee. He is also likely to agree with the Conservatives on the committee that it was going beyond its remit by commenting on Murdoch’s status as a man capable of running an international company.

Conservative MPs on the committee simply refused to accept the evidence existed to show that either Rupert Murdoch or his son James had deliberately misled the committee. The report came perilously close to suggesting he did mislead, describing some of his evidence as astonishing and accusing him of willful blindness.

Labour MPs, with the support of the sole Liberal Democrat MP on the committee, Adrian Sanders, argued that the scale of the corporate wrongdoing meant it was necessary to declare that Murdoch was not a fit and proper person to run an international company.

This report will now be referred to the Commons, and that could present a further problem for the Conservatives.

Cameron may feel deeply uneasy at the sight of his MPs being perceived to stand by Murdoch in any way, narrow or wide.

Ed Miliband was already preparing to make hay.

John Whittingdale, the Conservative chairman of the committee, and Louise Mensch, a prominent Conservative on the committee, insisted the motion in front of the Commons would be about the individuals, including Colin Myler, the editor of the New York Daily News, who they say has lied to parliament.

It will be easy for Conservative whips to agree to vote for that motion. It will be problematic if an amendment is tabled suggesting he is not fit to run an international company. But that is a little way down the track in the next parliamentary session.

There will also be a further subsidiary debate about what parliament can do to punish those that have been in contempt of the house. It is known for instance that the Speaker, John Bercow, feels strongly that some kind of suitable punishment has to be devised. At present the punishment includes being asked to apologise to MPs at the bar of the house.

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