Phone-hacking scandal rumbles on

Posted on September 8, 2010


The Andy Coulson phone-hacking scandal just refuses to go away. The prime minister’s director of communications had hoped to pour water on the story by agreeing to meet police over allegations that he was aware of phone-tapping during his time as editor of the News of the World. Yet the story refuses to go away, in part because of the dogged determination of Labour MPs to make this as uncomfortable as situation as possible for the coalition government. And the longer this drags on, the more uncomfortable it will be for David Cameron and his unlikely coalition. Indeed, there is more than just Andy Coulson’s job at stake here.

In criticising Theresa May’s reaction to the scandal as follows, Labour MP Tom Watson may well have been slightly exaggerating: “The integrity of our democracy is under scrutiny around the world and the home secretary must not make it a laughing stock”. Yet serious democratic and political issues are raised by the furore surrounding Andy Coulson. Paid £140,000 a year by the taxpayer, it is certainly in the public interest to ensure that Coulson has not been involved in such abuses. Particularly with MPs having been targeted, it is vital that the Metropolitan Police and the House of Commons between them get to the bottom of a story that has rumbled on for over a year now. Michael Gove may claim that the stories have been “recycled”, but some of the claims are fresh and require investigation. I have stated before on this blog how the hiring and continued employment of Coulson reflects badly on the judgement of David Cameron, especially in the wake of his criticism of Gordon Brown for associating Damian McBride and the grumbles of the Conservatives during the Blair years at what they then considered inappropriate behaviour from Alistair Campbell. That Cameron continues to so doggedly back his director of communications is surprising. As many have pointed out, Coulson was at least guilty of supreme incompetence during his editorship of the NOTW.

The scandal could also serve to drive a wedge between the coalition partners, on the backbenches at least. Within the government itself, the silence of leading Lib Dems has been noticeable. One might have thought that Chris Huhne, the Lib Dem Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, might have had something to say about these recent revelations given the fact that only last year he was doubting his capabilities and labelling him “either complicit or incompetent”. He has held his tongue. Stephen Tall notes that this has been a theme, with government members backing Coulson but whispers of disquiet coming from the backbenches. In this respect the Coulson affair serves as an analogy for the coalition government.

Roy Greenslade believes Coulson will survive, but others disagree. Guido Fawkes, somewhat fittingly, draws attention to an old comment from Alistair Campbell that you have eleven days to kill a story before you’re finished. Coulson is still trying to kill this one over a year later, and Guido thus feels at liberty to speculate on his successor.  The NUJ has called for Coulson to stand down from his government position. Coulson was a hot topic at today’s PMQs, and though Cameron’s absence meant he did not have to face any difficult questions about his director of communications, he won’t be able to avoid them for long.

(Cartoon: Steve Bell)

Posted in: Media, Politics