James Forsyth

Media wars

Media wars
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David Cameron finds himself caught up in a war between two media tribes following the revelations  about the phone hacking at the News of the World during Andy Coulson’s editorship. On the one side, there’s The Guardian—whose scoop it was—and the BBC; for the BBC this episode is a chance to both make an ideological point against tabloid journalism and the Murdoch press as well as gain some revenge for the fun that The Sun and The Times had with the BBC’s expenses. On the other is News International with other newspapers that have used similar methods looking nervously on from the sidelines.

I suspect that Andy Coulson’s position is safe for three reasons. First, he is important enough to the Cameron project that the leadership will be prepared to expend political capital to protect him. However, the sight of this will make those back backbenchers who feel they were thrown under the bus during the expenses scandal even more bitter.  Second, the majority of newspapers won’t want to follow this story too aggressively for fear of blowback; there are few papers that have entirely clean hands on this stuff. Third, I suspect most political journalists won’t want to burn their bridges with Coulson, who will maintain his current position through at least the party’s first term in government and most politicians won’t want to go to war with the Murdoch empire. I expect that Gordon Brown has no desire to see a return to the Labour versus the Murdoch press battles of the eighties and early nineties.

To be sure, today is not a good day for either Coulson or the Tory leadership. Being associated with this kind of story is not good for a political party. But the party took a calculated risk when it hired him after he had to resign over his Royal reporter tapping into voice mail and it must have known that the whole phone-tapping story would flare up from time to time. Unless something emerges to suggest that Coulson personally encouraged it, then he is safe. But this episode will further strain relations between the party leadership and the parliamentary party, many of whom will feel that Cameron is showing more loyalty to Coulson than he did to under-fire MPs.

P.S. Andrew Neil argues on his blog that ‘this story will run and run and run’