The conviction of former Downing Street press supremo Andy Coulson on charges of conspiracy to hack telephones should have serious consequences for David Cameron, the Prime Minister who brought him into the heart of the UK government after he committed these crimes.
Cameron has said he takes “full responsibility” for employing Coulson. He may regret those words in the future.
Interviewed by the BBC, he said: “I did so on the basis of undertakings I was given by him about phone hacking and those turn out not to be the case.” What undertakings? That he hadn’t taken part in any hacking or that he was very good at it and wouldn’t get caught?
For a Prime Minister in charge of a barely-legitimate Coalition government with an agenda to destroy Britain’s best loved institutions, such as the National Health Service and the Welfare State, the presence of a person who could infiltrate the telephone communications of others, providing information that could be used to stop them, would be a huge asset.
Pressed on what he asked Coulson and what assurances he was given, Cameron said: “We covered all this in the Leveson Inquiry.” This is not a rock-solid alibi as Cameron was found to have, let’s say, selective amnesia about certain issues. His relationship with the Murdoch press – of which Coulson is a former employee – was one of them, and it is appropriate that more questions should be asked – and answers demanded – about the level of influence exerted on the British government by the man Private Eye describes as the ‘Dirty Digger’.
At the Leveson Inquiry, Cameron could not say:
- Whether or not George Osborne obtained assurances from Andy Coulson about phone hacking before hiring him for the Conservative Party.
- Whether he spoke to Rebekah Brooks about Andy Coulson before his Downing Street appointment.
- How many conversations he had with Mrs Brooks about Coulson.
- Whether he raised the issue of phone hacking with Coulson in Westminster or over the phone while on holiday.
- Where and how Coulson repeated his assurances about phone hacking.
- What Nick Clegg said to him about Coulson.
- Who else raised concerns about Coulson with him.
- Whether or not any Tory MPs expressed concerns about Coulson.
- Whether he discussed Coulson and phone hacking with Rupert Murdoch.
- Whether he sought direct assurances on hacking from Andy Coulson when revelations appeared in the New York Times (isn’t that now a Murdoch paper?) on December 1, 2010.
“I gave someone a second chance and it turned out to be a bad decision,” Cameron said yesterday – but this won’t wash, according to the Labour Party’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman.
“He [Coulson] was not somebody who’d admitted what he’d done and was turning over a new leaf,” she said.
Labour leader Ed Miliband, interviewed (again) by the BBC, got straight to the point: “David Cameron brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street… David Cameron must have had his suspicions about Andy Coulson, and yet he refused to act.
“This taints David Cameron’s government because we now know that he put his relationship with Rupert Murdoch ahead of doing the right thing… He owes this country an explanation.”
Coulson’s connection with the Murdoch press was also hugely useful to Cameron at the time. Did he hope that the appointment would buy him favour with the 37 per cent of the British media owned by Murdoch? Was there a reciprocal arrangement, with the UK government showing extra favour to the Murdoch media – such as its plan to grant permission for Murdoch to buy the 61 per cent of BSkyB that he did not own (since aborted, partly due to bad publicity)?
As Roger Cohen wrote in the New York Times in July 2011, “It is hard to resist the impression that Cameron was completely in the thrall of Brooks, Murdoch and his son James Murdoch.”
What about the huge volume of emails – around 150 – between Cameron and Brooks that were withheld from the Leveson Inquiry and kept from the public domain, even after a Cabinet Office ruling in October 2012 that the public should see them?
Cameron was expected to face hard questions about his relationship with Coulson during Prime Minister’s Questions today (June 25). At the time of writing (11am), and based on his comments in the BBC interview, it seems likely that all we will hear is more evasion.
Is this really the behaviour of a man who should be the British Prime Minister?
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