Flashman is back – taunting Ed Miliband and defending Mitchell

Labour leader lands punches over 'Plebgate' – before David Cameron's 'inner Flashman' appears at PMQs

Column LAST UPDATED AT 14:21 ON Wed 17 Oct 2012

DAVID CAMERON'S nasty alter-ego – Flashman – reappeared today when the Prime Minister flatly refused to answer a question about withholding private emails he exchanged with Rebekah Brooks, the former News International chief executive.

Cameron had traded blows with Ed Miliband at the first session of Prime Minister's Questions after the party conference season with the Labour leader landing some strong punches over Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell and 'Plebgate'.

Miliband said a yob would have been arrested for behaving towards the Downing Street police in the way Mitchell is supposed to have done.

With Mitchell sitting impassively two seats away from Cameron, Miliband added: "While it's a night in the cell for the yobs, it's a night at the Carlton Club for the Chief Whip. Isn't that the clearest case there could be of double standards?"

Cameron hit back by accusing Miliband of being more interested in Plebgate than the economy and the unemployment figures which were published this morning showing youth unemployment had fallen.

The Prime Minister's supporters - including today Nick Robinson, the political editor of the BBC - took the view that though they were both wounded, Miliband had failed to land a knock-out punch on either Cameron or Mitchell.

Had it ended there, Cameron could have gone back to his room behind the Speaker's chair well pleased with his half-hour. But then nasty old Flashman appeared when Chris Bryant, the Labour MP, stood up to ask Cameron about yesterday's story in The Independent that the Prime Minister had withheld the Brooks emails from the Leveson inquiry into press ethics.

Bryant often sounds too sneering to gather much sympathy in the House, but there were shouts of surprise at the way Flashman dealt with his question. Instead of an easy answer, Cameron slapped Bryant down, saying he would not answer any more questions from the Member for Rhondda until he had apologised for earlier claims about emails which, the PM said, had proved to be wrong.

Labourite Kevin Maguire of the Daily Mirror tweeted: "Cameron unable to control inner Flashman, arrogantly refusing to answer Murdoch Q…"

It is almost unheard-of for a prime minister so blatantly to announce he will not answer questions from a particular MP, and the tactic was seen as untenable by Cameron's Tory critics. Tim Montgomerie of the Tory grassroots website ConservativeHome instantly tweeted: "Labour's Chris Bryant may be annoying but the PM can't NOT answer his questions."

There were more hints of Flashman when Cameron went in for a schoolboy taunt of Miliband. "You're sitting there [on the Opposition front bench]. I'm sitting here. And you're going to stay there."

Cameron won't presumably sack Mitchell for the foreseeable future, given his defence of the Chief Whip today, even though a number of Cabinet ministers think he should have fired him weeks ago.

But the far more worrying issue for Number Ten is that every time Flashman rears his head, he helps prove Miliband's point that Cameron is running a government of arrogant toffs who are out of touch with ordinary voters.

Voters in the marginal constituency of Corby go to the polls on 15 November, in a by-election caused by the flight to New York of chick lit novelist and Tory MP Louise Mensch. Cameron needs to bury his inner Flashman if he's not to get a whacking in Corby. · 

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We love the inner Flash! The rest of the time, Cameron's too wet, too polished, too PR, too desperate to bury the 'nasty party' image. He's like Blair, who was desperate to bury the Loony Left thing. The latest Tory MP intake are known to understand this. We need more Flash, not less!