In one respect the absolutely dreadful economic data (which surely is the final nail in the coffin of austerity as an ‘economic’ policy rather than an explicitly political one) may be quite helpful for the government. The announcement that Andy Coulson, formerly David Cameron’s director of communications, is among those to be prosecuted for his alleged role in phone-hacking at News International poses a few extremely awkward questions for the Prime Minister, who being the forgiving sort, gave Coulson his notorious ‘second chance’ by bringing him into the heart of the government.
Much has been made of the idea that Dave’s decision to hire Coulson brings the PM’s judgement into question. How could he make such a huge mistake? What was he thinking? Why were the warnings he received from the Guardian, amongst others, ignored?
I don’t look at it that way. The decision wasn’t a mistake in the way that I understand it. It wasn’t a foolish act of naiveté or incompetence. It was a quite deliberate selection by a Prime Minister who knew exactly what he was getting, and wanted what he was getting. In fact to suggest that he was a fool is to give Cameron far too much credit. I would suggest that he, along with his ‘genius’ right-hand man Gideon Osborne, was fully aware of Coulson’s record and likely misdemeanours and it didn’t bother him in the slightest. In fact his CV of skulduggery would have made him the ideal candidate for such a role.
The obvious evidence for this claim is the decision by Cameron to quite deliberately not put Coulson through the more rigorous ‘developed vetting’ procedure normally required for people who take jobs with potential access to such sensitive national security information. The process usually throws up any history of being a naughty boy or girl, any criminal past or “politically dubious” activities (from the point of view of the state, obviously). Whatever Tory high command may now claim, by ensuring that Coulson avoided this routine check Cameron was in effect acknowledging that he knew that Coulson had skeletons in his closet and those skeletons must presumably have had a News International logo on them. There was no other reason to avoid it. Cameron must have had some idea what it would throw up.
When Cameron appointed Coulson, he knew full well he was appointing a master of the dark arts of media manipulation and negative campaigning, just like Blair knew what he was getting with Campbell and Brown knew what he was getting with Charlie Whelan. That was precisely why he was selected. Coulson’s track record at News International showed exactly the skill-set that a Conservative leader wants from a spin doctor. Men and women willing to hack the voicemails of murdered schoolchildren are perfect for a Tory party unafraid to say or do anything to win power.
Cameron’s subsequent lamentations and hand-wringing about what has been revealed regarding the culture at NI are designed to conceal the real truth, that he didn’t expect Coulson’s previous misdeeds (whether or not the PM knew the exact details of what he had been getting up to are immaterial to be honest) to catch up with him. At the time NI was seen as untouchable and all-powerful, and I’m sure the PM wanted some of that omnipotence to rub off on him in the form of public endorsement by the Murdoch press. Coulson had a specific and key role to play in that regard I’m sure.
Cameron is many things, but innocent or naive he isn’t. You don’t get to be PM or leader of the Tory party without a ruthless streak and willingness to play dirty. Cameron’s statesman-like media image, of someone above the fray of conventional politicking, something he carefully cultivates, just as Blair did, is a mirage. He’s a cynical shit, to put it bluntly. Just like Gideon is. Just like they are in the upper echelons of all the main parties.
Coulson’s appointment was no ‘mistake’. The issue isn’t with Cameron’s ‘judgment’ as such. On its own terms choosing Coulson made perfect sense for a party and a leader who have no discernible moral compass.
Rather, the issue is a debased political culture that makes amoral shysters of Coulson’s ilk supposedly indispensable.