… what Cameron and the vanishing Osborne should do today …
Posted on 20 July 2011 | 7:07am
The last time David Cameron flew in mid-frenzy from an overseas visit, he did the right thing on arrival home in announcing a judicial inquiry into phonehacking and the broader practices of the press.
He should do the right thing today – and finally admit his judgement let him down in hiring Andy Coulson as his communications director. This would be greeted with some short-term derision in the House, but most members of the public would welcome it as a signal that he finally understands why this scandal has come so close to the door of Downing Street.
It is hysterical nonsense to suggest he is about to be toppled by the scandal which has so far engulfed the Met Police and News International. But his judgement and character are being called into question, and he needs to understand the damage that can do the next time, and the next, and the next, when he faces a crisis or he faces difficult decisions which require the public to trust his leadership.
All he needs to say is that he was warned and he should have heeded those warnings, and he intends to learn from that mistake. He would feel a big sigh of relief all around him.
The other political figure being damaged in all this is George Osborne, who was confirmed by Rebekah Brooks yesterday as the man who wanted to hire Coulson, despite his resignation from the News of the World and despite continuing questions about phonehacking.
Osborne’s silence has been troubling. I know he has a lot on his plate, with the Eurozone in such trouble, and with his Plan A not working, but he has to explain why he felt Coulson was the right choice at the time he made it. And he needs to beware he does not develop a reputation for being there when credit and glory is being showered, and absent when the brown stuff flies. It is a deeply unappealing trait.
If I were in charge of government comms today, I would be pressing for Cameron to set out in detail the way forward for the judicial inquiry, with some indication of what he expects from it, a categorical assurance that he never discussed BSkyB in the many meetings he had with News International executives, an admission of his error of judgement in hiring Coulson when it was blindingly obvious the scandal was not going away, then a round of interviews by Osborne to admit his part too. It will also give him the opportunity to talk about the economy, on which he has also been woefully silent and lacking in leadership in recent times.