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Cameron’s judgement an issue; but inquiry will now go deeper than if press had listened to critics before

Posted on 14 July 2011 | 7:07am

Just as News International threw Andy Coulson to the wolves in advance of last week’s PMQs, so at yesterday’s the PM did the same.

In truth however, if Mr Cameron’s former communications director ‘turns out to have lied to me’ of course it will say something about Mr Coulson. But it will also say something about Mr Cameron and his judgement and character.

When Tony Blair asked me to work for him, I sat down and I went through things in my life that were likely to be trawled over, and which might embarrass him. A drink problem. A breakdown. Violence. A patchy record at university to say the least. I told him who my enemies were and who my friends were, so that he could make a judgement on that too. He made his own inquiries by talking to others. He pressed me a bit, and after it all said ‘I am not bothered if you’re not bothered’. In other words he made a judgement based on as full an assessment as he could make.

If there are any researchers with nothing much to do today I would love to count the number of times I have written about the Cameron-Coulson relationship and asked on this blog if Mr Cameron had the eyeball to eyeball conversation that would allow his judgement to be applied.

He took Mr Coulson’s word for it. Fine. He took Mr Murdoch’s word. Mmm, ok. But he was being warned privately and publicly by many wiser and more independent counsel that it was a mistake. He chose only to hear what he wanted to hear.

There are also questions – which the government seem reluctant to answer – about the vetting process Mr Coulson went through after Mr Cameron took him to Downing Street.

Yesterday I bumped into Paddy Ashdown, one of the people who warned Cameron privately whilst many others were doing so publicly. He said if Cameron’s judgement was so poor in this, it would call it into question more insistently from now on in.

Mr Cameron did what he had to yesterday, but he is being dragged by events not leading them. George Osborne’s role in this is also questionable, though he is doing a good job at keeping his head down. He it is who wanted Coulson in there. He too therefore must face the charge that his desire to get someone he thought would be the best clouded his judgement. He parades as a great strategist. But this was a tactical error with profound strategic implications.

So now the dam has burst on Murdoch and Mr Cameron hopes his new indignation and the judicial inquiry will halt the dam bursting on him.

I caught the end of Newsnight and well done to the Tory MP Louise Mensch for making clear her side too wanted to see the inquiry go beyond News, in her case (as in mine) to the Mail in particular for the corrosive impact its standards and practices have on our national life (not to mention its starring role in the Information Commissioner’s previous investigations).

A word about my old paper the Mirror too. Today columnist Brian Reade has a pop, saying I was the one who got TB to cosy up to Murdoch and so who am I to talk now? And he suggests the media rounds I have doing have been to promote my new book.

First, try telling that to the publishers. I have refused to do the round of bookplugging interviews despite many many requests.

I have done the interviews I have done on the current situation, and said what I have said here, because I have experience of both sides of the fence and I think this is an important moment for the media-politics relationship; a subject on which as Brian knows I have had strong views for a long time.

It is partly the journalist in me, as well as the political voice, that hopes we can now move to a position where politicians do their job without fear or favour, and journalists do their job without fear or favour. It will be healthier all round, and better for the public. But I would say from the press reaction so far that the politicians get this better than the journalists.

One final point on the Mirror. I have been trying to find out why my old paper hired Jonathan Rees, and paid him well, for inquiries in relation to me half during our first term. I have asked Piers Morgan, who no longer seems willing to comment on all this. Mr Reade’s article reminds me I should keep on asking.

In any event, I assume Mr Justice Leveson will want to know why newspapers pay large sums to private detectives. Could it be that they do the things the journalists cannot do within the law?

So for Cameron, questions of judgement. For all politicians, questions about why we tolerated this situation for too long. For the police, questions about their competence and in some cases their integrity. And for some of our journalists, questions about culture and practices that will now be far more far-reaching than they would have been had they listened earlier to some of the criticisms that have come their way.

I repeat my comparison with the trade unions pre-Thatcher. They did not see what was coming because they saw only what they wanted to. A bit like Cameron too.

  • Then there is that other genie in the room, the candlelight dinners, the horse rides, the long conversations on the phone, the warm greeting on video where he kissed Rebekah Brooks.

    I am wondering if this relationship clouded David Cameron’s judgement

  • Suffolkjason

    “I caught the end of Newsnight and well done to the Tory MP Louise Mensch
    for making clear her side too wanted to see the inquiry go beyond News,”- I think you meant to say “News International”.

    As a Labour supporter, I’m concerned that Ed could be backing himself into a corner about Tom Baldwin. Are you 100% convinced that Baldwin is 100% clean? If yes, how can you be so sure about any ex News Interntional employee? If no, do you agree that Ed is taking a huge risk? If Baldwin is later found guilty of any misdemeanour, Ed will have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

    • Janete

      This is a good point. However, it seems we are prepared to forgive the Daily Telegraph for the illegal acquisition of MP’s expenses information. If there are serious concerns about non payment of tax perhaps there are instances where blagging reveals facts that are truly in the public interest. 

  • Ehtch

    Cameron is playing the lowest common denominator, and that is deny everything until he has to admit it, and hope people forget what he said last week.

    Cameron is a total tosser as a man – I await his memoirs – they would put a work of fiction of Jefferey Archer to shame. He is a prize twat. It has to be said.

  • Curious too how eloquent the silence of Cable has been in all of this.
    There is so much that has been shown so far awry and so many judgements that have been demonstrated to be so out of kilter with public mood.
    Thank you for your insight into vetting – Cameron et al truly seem to believe that they belong to another strand of humanity.

  • Peter Robson

    Could this be the start of “Donorgate” as Gordon mentioned yesterday the tory media agenda seemed to come directly from Murdoch jnr. We have already seen the NHS reforms feeding Lansley’s donors where next ?

  • Yonks

    You should note that Alastair doesn’t deny the Reade comment ‘I was the one who got TB to cosy up to Murdoch’.
    I think you’ll find that much of what the Tories are doing media-wise is ‘modeled’ on what Alastair achieved for TB so, pot, kettle, take your pick.

    If Cameron is a ‘tosser’ then what does that say about Brown, Miliband, Balls etc?

  • Ehtch

    I hope the shiney head is a man of a tthosands days, at the most. If not, this country wouldn’t be going anywhere fast – he is my idea of a total blagger. I sense 1962 and Chritstine Keeler, even though Big Mac was a good Prime Minister. Where will the long knives come from?

  • MelSpence

    A quick trawl through the blogs reveals 38 articles containing Coulson.

    I started reading your blog, to discover in Patton’s word if “you were as big a son of a bitch” as I thought you were. Been somewhat surprised to find I agree with you more often than not

    • MicheleB

      You’ll also find if you search ‘McMullan’ Mel that ‘hacking on an industrial scale’ has been being mentioned ever since April and other keywords might find it going back even earlier.

      I’m still glad if the Dowlers knew nothing about the accessing of their daughter’s phone till post-trial. 

  • Gordon Craig

    Most of us outside the Westminster elite have been concerned about the coziness between press and Parliament. Obviously the use of “spin doctors” like yourself was a major part of that concern. If anything positive can be drawn from this debacle it will be the separation of the media and Parliament and politicians using Parliament to announce policy rather than the press.

  • NickSmeggHead

    I see from the Guardian that Gordon Brown warned Nick Clegg about Coulson.

    “I can say for the record that, as I left office, I talked to the leader of the
    Liberal party and warned him that a Coulson problem would emerge, and I
    did so directly, and not through an intermediary who might not remember to
    pass on the message.”

    Now Clegg is denying that this was ever raised. 

    We have a laying Prime Minister and now a laying deputy too!

    I just want to remind you of this …..

    And something about the good old Daily Mail

    • MicheleB

      I like your ‘laying’ and hope it wasn’t accidental  🙂

      Poor Nick; Miriam’s whingeing that the hours he’s doing now are ‘killing him’; I reckon that leaks a lot about the hours he used to keep.

      It really is time the HoC functioned on more-normal business hours, the tradition of the chamber starting after lunch is a hangover from when most MPs were funded by their other business.

    • Yonks

      Haven’t you yet realised that they’re all ‘layers’?

  • Olli Issakainen

    The idea of Andy Coulson as comms chief for the Tories was the brainchild of the PR man Matthew Freud, who happens to be married to Rupert Murdoch´s daughter Elisabeth.
    George Osborne and William Hague then endorsed the appointment to Mr Cameron.
    We have known since the original court case that there was more than one “rogue reporter” involved in the phone-hacking as the judge on the case said that Mr Mulcaire had also worked with others at the paper.
    So Mr Coulson should not have been given a “second chance” because it was obvious that he was not telling the truth.
    And if Mr Coulson did not know what happened at his newspaper he was being incompetent, and thus Mr Cameron should not have appointed him.
    It is worth noting that Mr Coulson was given access to top secret material at No 10, so he should have been vetted comprehensively.
    George Osborne sees himself as a brilliant tactician. A year ago he announced his austerity package which has now killed all economic growth in Britain.
    The economy started to recover from the recession in the last quarter of 2009 because of the 21% depreciation of sterling and £200bn injection of cash into the banking system starting in February 2009.
    Mr Osborne claimed that tight reduction plan was needed to restore confidence of the markets, but the markets were not panicking. Britain was not Greece. It was not bankrupt. Much of the debt was owned by Britons, and Britain had its own currency.
    Mr Osborne believes that any reduction in government borrowing is equivalent to transferring money to the private sector. He thinks private spending is more profitable than public spending.
    Mr Osborne thinks that his deficit reduction plan will boost confidence in the economy, but the opposite has happened.
    Mr Osborne believed that his £111bn austerity package would produce high growth rate which would have allowed him to cut taxes just before the next general election.
    But the “master tactician” will be proved wrong later this month when the Q2 growth figures will be out.
    U-turn on the cuts is now needed. A new round of quantitative easing will not be enough.
    George Osborne´s reckless gamble has failed!  

  • ambrosian

    We need to know more about why Cameron hired a private company to vet Andy Coulson. Prime Ministers have the vast resources of the secret intelligence services at their disposal to vet prospective staff and indeed Ministers. We know that the Tories prefer the private sector to the state sector but this seems yet another example of private sector inefficiency.

    • Janete

      Interesting. Would the secret services have reported their findings to the Government, for individuals other than Cameron to see? If so, was the same true for the private company’s report? 

  • postageincluded

    Quite right to raise Osborne’s role, which Cameron repeatedly tries to obscure by saying “I was lied to and no-one else was involved in the decision”.

    It is easy to accept that one man, making a decision alone, can be deceived. It’s harder to believe that two men were.

    3 or 4 would begin to look like a conspiracy.

  • Anonymous

    Damn, you beat me to it. But my results added up to 37. 

    However, that only brings up results of how many times Coulson and Cameron were discussed in the same blog, not specifics about whether they had the ‘eyeball to eyeball conversation’.

  • MicheleB

    I remember Louise Mensch (or Bagshawe as she was then) on Budget day. 

    I wondered in the first ten minutes from whom that roaring honking at every sentence from Osborne (like a American sports fan) was coming and when the view opened out I wondered how come this looker was suddenly so visible, sitting right behind Osborne and where she was off to when she was leaving the chamber just a few paces behind him.

    She did a good Mrs Indignant last night but she’s as up the Bulliboys’ armpits as it’s possible to be and the beneficiary of a very subtle parachuting of a woman in to a safe Tory seat.

    Geoffrey Robertson in the Guardian today seems to think Police powers extend further than I’d expect them to. 

    I find it laughable that people that have objected to allegations being taken seriously about their own group in the past are still willing to jump in to first place on the bandwagon about another.

    • MicheleB

      oooops, got the background wrong.

      Not ‘parachuted in to a safe Tory seat’
      rather she was put on their A-list and then displaced a Labour marginal.

  • MicheleB

    Oh for heaven’s sake, if you can’t see the difference between Murdoch’s repuation now and how it was in the mid 90s you need help.

    • Yonks

      I’m really not interested in Murdoch’s reputation and I don’t understand why you would be. I should have thought you’d be more interested in the actions of his organisation and his consequent responsibility. I somehow can’t ‘picture’ him in the role of saint.

  • MicheleB

    I like your ‘turns out to have lied to me’……………

    It depends on what overt questions were asked doesn’t it and what was a little more nuanced.

    I dread to think which phone lists Coulson had access to in No10 and to whom they have been passed.

  • tess

    It seems to me DC and GO are thick as thieves with one another and it is about time they came under the same scrutiny as TB, GB and indeed Alastair Campbell have, not only for the last week, but for the last 13 years. After all, these people are running our country making decisions which affect all our lives – their judgement by rights should be impeccable, but is it? Where was DC in the HoC debate yest to defend his judgement in hiring Andy Coulson?  Considering he is someone who is ‘disgusted’ by the hacking revelations, you would have thought he would have liked to have been there to make his views on the scandal clear, but maybe not eh, the kitchen is too hot for him perhaps? GO has less and less to say these days which is very strange indeed given that he is in the process of ‘rescuing our economy’, or not as the case may be. In fact, I can’t say I have ever noticed him say much of any use at all but that is besides the point, I digress.
    In my opinion, people with nothing to hide have nothing to fear from being scrutinised, whether by the media, by their peers or indeed, in the case of politicians, the people who put them there – ordinary voters like myself. Lets hope the inquiry is as full and impartial as has been promised, at least then, with the eyes of the world firmly watching, the facts will finally speak for themselves.

  • Richard

    As journalists you all prostituted yourselves to the news groups which employed you, spinning any story in the direction of travel of the organ you wrote for. When politicians employed you subsequently, it was not for your eloquence or journalistic skills but for your contacts.
    Your constant briefing against ministers and others who crossed your path, and your attack dog bullying  tactics made you the cockerel at the top of the dunghill.
    When are you going to tell us what you knew about phone tapping when Labour were in power? Your silence is deafening.
    GB has scored a massive own goal this week with his impassioned interview, clean forgetting that he socialised and snuggled up to the rats thereafter
    Funny that you are now distancing yourself from your sewer rat pal Morgan, but be careful for he surely knows where a lot of the bodies are burried!

  • Will it go deep enough to probe the evidence of inappropriate and apparently organised behaviour by some who receive funding from BIS and DFE?  Or is the government still not interested in the evidence for that?

  • Will it be sufficiently far-reaching to probe evidence of inappropriate organised behaviour by some individuals who benefit from BIS/DFE money?  If so, who do we send it to?

  • Sorry if I’ve posted multiple comments/please delete the extras.  Not used to this weird facebook sign-in.

  • SG

    What a load of sanctimonious bulls**t. No political party is blameless here, in fact they’re all as bad as each other. Does anyone seriously not believe that come election time, if it guaranteed his support, each wouldn’t be sucking up to Murdoch, or his like, again.
    Some on here need to take their blinkers off !!

  • Robert

    So the chairman of a British company (BSkyB) is prevaricating about going before a government committee.

    What do his fellow board members think about it?

  • Jamiereed2010

    The temptation for some to use this scandal is too much for them to bear. AC’s analysis has been right for a long time now. Read my assessment here

  • Moral Compass McManse

    Throwing stones from a glasshouse is signature speciality of old Crookedmouth. Like that other hypocrite, our very own son of the manse, AC is very good at claiming the moral highground when it suits whilst failing to acknowledge his own significant contribution to the slide in reporting standards in recent years. I think Brian Reade’s article is actually a pretty fair assessment really. The one good thing about AC’s falling out with Murdoch is that we no longer have to suffer self indulgent self referential articles in the sports section of the Times.
    What we can take from this sorry affair is that NULab/the Tories/Lib Dems are all much of a muchness when it comes to self-serving double standards and cowardice and are not much better than those rats from News International, which is why I no longer vote (I’m former Labour by the way). (GB writing a book entitled Courage is as laughable and credible as TB’s ‘Faith’ Foundation and appointment as Middle East Peace Envoy).
    ps – as much as I detest the man, Rod Liddle’s summary of your Diaries is a pretty accurate representation of their worth.
    pps – the frequency with which you refer to your time in government is perhaps paradigmatic of the deep malaise and moral and intellectual bankruptcy at the heart of our modern executive – point being you were never elected as our representative, but acted too often as if you were.

  • Gilliebc

    I particularly like that last line of your comment Duncan.  To me at least, that says it all.

  • Patricia Shepherd

    I see Clegg is condemning the Murdochs and giving his thoughts on what they should do,in fact everyone is condemning them,except Cameron.
       Does he think we are all simple,it’s obvious he’s still scared of them,I’d love to know what they have on him.

  • MicheleB

    The point was that Murdoch in the 90s was acceptable for use; he had become less and less so in recent years (those of which Cameron/Osbo were surely aware) so your comparison of then and now was a meaningless pop.

  • Gilliebc

    As with most if not all inquiries in this country Tess,  whether it’s Hutton,
    7/7 or this up-coming latest inquiry we shall only get the facts that they want us to know about!  The truth being a completely different thing altogether.

    • MicheleB

      I hope this Inquiry isn’t chaired by someone tainted and snide (as another mentioned here this week is).

  • MicheleB

    I really don’t believe that a single party in the UK would accept (never mind ‘suck up’ for) Murdoch’s support again and if it’s discovered that hacking has happened in NI/USA (or elsewhere worldwide) that will show the instruction here came from the top.

    Murdoch’s papers were used as a conduit to reach people that would never touch the lefties ….. used.

  • Anonymous

    Well written, the story continues to unfold and David Cameron, because of a woeful lack of judgement, has his fortunes tied to it…

  • Sinéad Keane

    A.C.,you’re above reproach attitude is sickening,has anyone across the water never heard of innocent till proven guilty.You should buy a mirror and take a long look at yourself.You say that you never sucked up to N.I newspapers,then did St Tony not travel half way around the world in ’95 to talk to N.I. executives.Nothing to say about what happened at ‘The Chilcot Inquiry’ today then.

  • MicheleB

    I don’t think live coverage would be a good idea; all the info will need to be organised and cross ref’d.

    The fact that one person knew or passed on a certain fact at a particular time doesn’t mean everyone concerned read or heard of it then but that wouldn’t stop all the evening media purporting that things had been so.

  • MicheleB

    cluck cluck

  • Dave Simons

    Correction – Big Mac was a good beefburger, if you like that sort of thing. Harold Macmillan took over from Anthony Eden just when western capitalism was booming, and, as they do, he claimed it was because of his government’s policies, whereas it would have happened whatever government was in office. It’s a tragedy it didn’t happen when Labour was in office, but because of first-past-the-post Labour was out and subsequently identified with the Age of Austerity that followed the Second World War. Just think what progress could have been made if Labour had stayed in office when the boom took place! Instead we got Rachmanism, Notting Hill and Nottingham race riots, the Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davies sleeze, and to cap it all, a return to grouse moor politics with Sir Alec Douglas-Home. Harold’s son, Joshua, died of a combination of sleeping pills and alcohol, and his wife was having an affair during his premiership, so he obviously wasn’t spending much time with his family. Stockton in the 1930s certainly opened his eyes to the other England, and it stood him in good stead during the Thatcher years, when the other England was under full frontal assault from unbelievable narrow-mindedness. I had the depressing experience last Tuesday of being in the House of Commons and seeing a statue of that dreadful Prime Minister, from Grantham alongside Clement Attlee and Lloyd George. Apparently the former Speaker, Michael Martin, a former ‘Labour’ man, was responsible for that!

  • Yonks

    Tell me Michele,, do leopards change their spots? No, didn’t think so!

  • MicheleB

    You must have ESP Shin or be imagining what you hope was redacted.

    Which is it?

  • MicheleB

    Read more of the blog instead of just ‘our’ exchanges AND stop talking to yourself by supplying A to your own Q.

  • ambrosian

    No, my understanding is that such reports would be seen by only the PM and the Cabinet Secretary but Alastair would know better than me.
    We need to know the name of the private company used and whether they were paid by public funds or Tory Party funds. If the intelligence services also did a check, did they reach the same or a different conclusion?

    A worrying aspect is that if you pay for a service, objectivity can be sacrificed and the company may tell you what they think you want to hear.

  • Ehtch

    Yes, correct, Super Mac it was, wasn’t it. I must have posted that just before lunch, and had a subliminal slip due to hunger. But I always get that wrong, even with a full belly, to tell you the truth.

  • Ehtch

    Blimey! 20 likes. A little bit of profanity from the heart works at times. Nice. Cheers all.

  • Dave Simons

    Yes it was ‘Super Mac’ and he never said “You’ve never had it so good”, although in the late 1950s a lot of people hadn’t had it so good. I haven’t got the exact quotation to hand but I think he was expressing a degree of concern about the state of the economy and the sustainability of the post-war boom.

  • Ehtch

    Dave, we were still broke after WWII then, and recovering relatively, relatively pants to the US, who played the tune then, and that is the US problem now, doodleation, can’t remember the word, for capitalist highground farted on for a long time, hahahargh, no, word its gone, songtime,

  • Ehtch

    always love seeing the Two Dans Daily Mail clip. Have you seen when he appeared on BBC4 Genius programme with his keyboard connected choir? Genius it certainly was. I’ll see if youtubb has a clip of it….

    hello, still with me. I’m back. And yep, they certainly have. Dan the genius, enjoy,

  • Ehtch

    always love seeing the Two Dans Daily Mail clip. Have you seen when he appeared on BBC4 Genius programme with his keyboard connected choir? Genius it certainly was. I’ll see if youtubb has a clip of it….

    hello, still with me. I’m back. And yep, they certainly have. Dan the genius, enjoy,