One day, four positions and why I feel sorry for the Prime Minister

The Panama Papers have caused quite a stir over the last few days. Before I continue, I'm going to reassure you I'm not going to try and explain what they are, what they mean or why they are important. There are actual economists who will do that. I also don't really understand alot of it. 

I'm here to talk about the mess Downing Street are in in terms of dealing with the story.

The last 24 hours have seen Number 10 in a bit of a tailspin trying to explain how the Prime Minister is implicated, or not, in the publication of the leaked tax documents. They've issued several statements since yesterday, explaining initially the PM didn't benefit at all from offshore accounts, then having to extend that to his wife or children, then again having clarify that he wouldn't benefit in the future and finally that neither would his wife and children.

Four positions in 24 hours. Headline writers everywhere are rejoicing.

And you know what, I have the utmost sympathy for them. Why? Because I've seen how this can happen for myself.

When I was in the press office in 2014, the Liberal Democrats held our party conference in York. As is traditional, the party leader's speech was pre-briefed to the journalists present who were given the opportunity to ask questions, clarify points and generally probe Nick's spokesman for information that would be helpful to them writing up the stories afterwards.

It was all going fine initially. And then it came. Sam Coates, Deputy Political Editor of The Times and baby-faced political assassin, asked the question that would torment the next 6 hours of our lives:

And that was it. The floodgates opened. The Lobby decided to pick away at this answer like a child at a scab. 

Would he serve the full five years? Would he only serve it if the party were in Government? If he stepped down halfway through a coalition, how would transition work? If we weren't in Government, would he step down? Did he have a successor in mind? If he did step down, would he remain in Parliament or resign his seat as well? Had he consulted Miriam about these plans?

We ended up clarifying the position four times over the course of the afternoon, going from 'He wants to lead the party beyond beyond 2015' to 'He wants to lead the party into 2015 and beyond, regardless of the result' via 'He wants to remain leader if we return to Government.'

I can't even remember what the fourth one was, but there definitely was one.

The position changed so many times, and with such speed, that Tim Shipman began to speculate that Sam would have us saying he planned on being leader for the rest of his life if he just kept asking the question. He probably wasn't wrong.

It was chaos. 

And this is the situation that David Cameron and his Downing Street spinners find themselves in.

It'll pass, but they just need to be prepared to swallow their pride and commit to clarifying the statement again and again until the questions stop coming. Because they will. Eventually.