The Thick of It


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cameron and Coulson: no smoke without fire?

As I wrote yesterday, if the top brass of the Metropolitan Police have resigned because of the "smoke" caused by association with News International staff, why is David Cameron excluded from this charge? Surely his association with Andy Coulson is worse than the police association with Neil Wallis? At the very least it requires the same level of scrutiny.

So far Cameron has rejected criticism that he could have avoided bringing himself and the centre of government into this scandal by not employing Coulson. When he employed Coulson he had already quit his job as News of the World editor following the jailing of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman for phone hacking in 2007. The Met Police can claim ignorance of Wallis' involvement as at that stage he hadn't been implicated, but they did the right thing and quit anyway after facing growing doubts about their impartiality.  

Given Paul Stephenson and Andy Yates' resignations the focus will inevitbalby shift closer to Cameron. At some point he is going to have to open himself up to scrutiny and answer these questions. I suspect that he was so in thrall with the power of News International when in opposition that he thought the benefit of employing Coulson outweighed the risk. 

The Sun's support for the Tories was much publicised in late 2009
The Tories had been out of power for (eventually) 13 years and were desperate to get back in. News International support was obviously deemed critical to that. The Sun's switch to the Tories after Gordon Brown's last conference speech was the denouement of that relationship. Pat McFadden at Progress gives a good account of how Labour had courted the same support in the 1990s, then seen as critical to gaining power.

Cameron got himself into power but at what price?

His traditional media support base at The Daily Telegraph is no longer supporting him. Their editorial today states: 

"Mr Cameron wants to draw a distinction between, on the one hand, his relationship with Mrs Brooks and Mr Coulson, and on the other, the police's relationship with Mr Wallis. But this simply won't wash."

The New Statesman points out that Cameron "cannot afford to keep up his silence much longer". The drip, drip, drip of accusations will continue until Cameron puts them to bed. Nothing else is going to make them go away, only he can do that and should have put out the flames of innuendo quickly. By now he could have been in the recovery phase but instead he remains vulnerable and the "smoke" wafts around him as he continues to fan the flames.

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