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News, gossip and insight from PoliticsHome Editor Paul Waugh

Cam's big day

Given Ed Miliband's taunts about him 'running scared' of the beast that is the phone hacking scandal, it looks like the PM is now ready to stand his ground.

David Cameron will be making a statement on the whole affair and has drafted a detailed speech to cover all of the bases. On the issue of when the inquiries can start, I understand that it's far from easy to get either of them going as swiftly as MPs would like.

The PM and Miliband are bound to spar with each other over the issue at PMQs, but they may want to save their best bullets for the statement itself. Miliband can ask lots of questions about the PM's hiring of Andy Coulson, his 'basic background check' on the ex spinner and whether or not Ed Llewellyn passed on warnings from Steve Hilton.

Cameron knows that he cannot afford to flap around on the issue as he did during Monday's Downing Street presser. If it gets rough, expect more of the Tory line that they've done more in seven days than Labour did in 13 years to grasp the nettle of a blagging and other media abuses.

After a private meeting between Cameron, Miliband and Clegg, the statement will include a wider remit for the inquiries than thought, plus moves to have greater transparency in dealings with the media. The PM met Sir Paul Stephenson, the Met Commissioner, in Number 10 to finalise elements of the announcement.

The PM knows that by making a statement - straight after PMQs - he can try to take the wind out of the sails of the Opposition Day debate that will follow it. I hear that it's still undecided if Cameron himself will lead for the Government in response to Miliband.

Jeremy Hunt, Number 10 tell us, will be the only Tory MP not expected to vote for the Labour motion - and that's because he retains a 'quasi-judicial' role. I've long pointed out that the emphasis should be on the 'quasi' bit of that description (he also has a quasi-political role), but that's another story.

Hunt had a 'mare yesterday in the chamber and the PM may not want to dump him in it again by asking him to reply for the Government in the debate. So, will the lawyers' lawyer, Dominic Grieve, take on the job? After all, he was the one providing prep for Hunt yesterday. "He'll bore them to death," as one Tory put it to me tonight.

One mischievous option being discussed by MPs is that Vince Cable could lead for the Government, given that his department is in charge of competition and he definitely has no legal role in any decision making. That's probably wishful thinking.

Another possibility is that Nick Clegg could fly the flag. The DPM has himself had a 'good war' so far, calling for Murdoch to pull the deal well before the PM hinted it yesterday. Then again, he may not want to get skewered on the Coulson stuff in case it proves embarassing for his civil partner.

The Lib Dems role in this has been fascinating so far. I note that Ming Campbell and Tim Farron actually signed the Labour motion this afternoon - before they even knew it would get official Government backing. Lib Dem ministers were being warned that if the motion attacked the Government in any way, they would be expected to oppose it.

It's not exactly been easy for the Coalition to back the Oppositon motion and we shouldn't forget how unusual it is to do so.

Ed Miliband will undoubtedly claim victory with his motion's defiant threat to the Murdoch empire, just as he has with the BSkyB referral to the Competition Commission. On the face of it, he's drafted a cleverly worded item that was impossible to amend without looking craven to Murdoch.

Yet as Ming Campbell and Farron's move indicates, he could possibly have got a further political win by splitting the Coalition on a differently worded motion.

Just imagine if instead of the House urging Murdoch to 'withdraw' his bid, the House urged him to 'abandon' his bid. That would have been irresistible to many Lib Dems and perhaps some Tories. But its finality would have scared the hell out of ministers.

One thing's for sure. Just as News International are starting to get their act together in rebutting Brown's charges, so too is Number 10 finding its feet a bit more, even as the hacking scandal roils uncontrollably like an ocean swell.

 

UPDATE: I hear that Sir George Young is actually being considered as the man to lead for the Government in the debate itself. The PM could claim that he has a prior 2pm engagement with the Dowler family, but that may not stop Labour from claiming that Cameron is "running scared" from his links to Coulson.

Let's see who is finally put up by the Government.

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