Andy coulson

The turning point?

There’s a feeling in Conservative circles that they have finally turned the corner on phone hacking today after David Cameron’s marathon performance at the despatch box today. At the 1922 Committee this evening, Cameron entered and exited to the banging of desks. But, tellingly, there were no questions on phone hacking and Andy Coulson. Instead, the crisis in the eurozone was the main subject of discussion. Cameron did, though, refer to the matter. At the end, he recalled how Peter Tapsell, the veteran Tory MP, had said of him that ‘he had never known a Prime Minister more adept at getting out of scrapes. But he had also never known

Cameron’s letter to Watson

Tom Watson fired a barb at David Cameron during the oral questions following the prime minister’s statement. He referred to a letter about allegations against Andy Coulson he had sent to Cameron on 4th October 2010. The letter had gone unanswered and Watson wanted to know why. After struggling to answer for a while, Cameron eventually said he would respond, forgetting that he appears already to have done so. Here is his letter, just released by Downing Street: ‘1O DOWNING STREET LONDON SW1A 2AA 20 October 2010 Mr Tom Watson MP Thank you for your letter of 4 October. The Standards and Privileges Committee and the Home Affairs Committee have both

A real crisis?

David Cameron is under pressure now that the phone hacking scandal has slithered its way closer to his door. The news that Neil Wallis informally advised Andy Coulson in the run up to last year’s election will spark questions about Cameron’s judgement and the competence of his leadership, as will the revelations about his chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn. Criticism is likely to come from both sides of the House: Tories I’ve spoken to are none too pleased about yesterday’s events. Cameron rebuffed his critics at last week’s PMQs by rising above politics to strike a calm and prime ministerial tone, for the most part. He will have to do so again.

Brooks comes to Cameron’s aid, perhaps unintentionally

Rebekah Brooks’s  appearance before the Culture Media and Sport Committee was largely uneventful. Most of the questions addressed her editorship of the News of the World, a period about which she cannot openly speak at present because of the criminal proceedings brought against her. However, Brooks was very keen to distance herself from David Cameron. Towards the end of the session, Tory MP Philip Davies asked of the stories circulating about her relationship with Cameron. She took the opportunity to deny them and set the record straight. “I have not visited David Cameron at Downing Street since he has become Prime Minister,” she said and then added that she had visited Tony Blair and

James Forsyth

The crisis gets closer to the Tories

The news that Neil Wallis was informally advising Andy Coulson without the knowledge of any of the other senior figures in the Tory party is a reminder of just how dysfunctional the Tory party machine was pre-election. It is also an indication of the license that Coulson was afforded. The Tories cannot say if anyone else offered Coulson this kind of ‘informal advice’. The Tories are stressing that they did not pay Wallis or his company. But it is a massive embarrassment for the Tory party that two people who did work for it in its preparations for the election have now been arrested by the police. I expect Cameron

Alex Massie

Dominic Grieve is a bigger scandal than Andy Coulson

The public may not be much interested in the Murdoch Affair but the importance of an issue is not measured by the level of public interest in it. If it were and if the news channels only covered the things the public loves we’d be treated to exhaustive coverage of kittens in trees, car chases and executions. Bully for the great British public. Equally, those tempted to dismiss the implications of the Prime Minister’s involvement in this stramash might consider whether they’d be quite so generous if the scandal had erupted – like some giant suppurating boil – while Labour were in government. As a general rule if you think

Tonight’s developments

The untimely death of Sean Hoare is dominating tomorrow’s front pages. But on The Guardian front page there’s also a report on another development in this scandal: Detectives are examining a computer, paperwork and a phone found in a bin near the riverside London home of Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International. The Guardian has learned that a bag containing the items was found in an underground car park in the Design Centre at the exclusive Chelsea Harbour development on Monday afternoon. The car park, under a shopping centre, is yards from the gated apartment block where Brooks lives with her husband, a former racehorse trainer and

Phone hacking tempest forces Cameron to shorten trip again

David Cameron’s long-planned trip to Africa has been foreshortened again. He will now return on Tuesday evening, as opposed to Wednesday morning. This, we are led to believe, is so that he can finalise the terms and membership of the Leveson inquiry ahead of Wednesday’s emergency parliamentary session. The scramble for Africa has become the scramble from Africa.  As this crisis deepens, the forthcoming public inquiries grow ever more important for the Prime Minister. Lord Justice Leveson will examine the alleged misdoings between members of the police and the media; Leveson will not convene until the conclusion of the criminal investigation. Cameron is also preparing another inquiry to investigate media regulation, now that the

James Forsyth

How Cameron can regain some initiative

The phone hacking scandal has now been leading the news for a fortnight straight. When a story has been on the front pages for this long, it develops its own momentum. If we were on day two of the story, I very much doubt that Sir Paul Stephenson would have resigned as quickly as he did or if David Cameron would have agreed so readily to extending the parliamentary session. Cameron is now out of the country, allowing Ed Miliband to stay on the front foot. The danger for Cameron is that Miliband constantly appears to be half a step ahead of the PM. Miliband’s line that Cameron is ‘hamstrung’

At the PM’s pleasure…

Here is the list that James referred to earlier in full: Guests to Chequers from May 2010 to present Government guests and senior media guests: Danny Alexander MP and Rebecca Alexander Lord Ashdown Tony Baldry MP Greg Barker MP and George Prassus Lord Terry Burns and Lady Ann Elizabeth Burns Rebekah Brooks (June 2010 and August 2010) Brigadier Ed Butler and Sophie Butler Ian Cheshire and Kate Cheshire Ken Clarke MP and Gillian Clarke Nick Clegg MP Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles Brigadier James Cowan Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Dalton Alan Duncan MP and James Dundeath James Fergusson Stanley Fink and Barbara Fink Daniel Finkelstein and Nicky Finkelstein Liam Fox MP

James Forsyth

Cameron comes clean

Later on today, Downing Street will reveal all of David Cameron’s meetings with newspaper / media proprietors and editors since the election. This is a welcome move, transparency is the best disinfectant and by getting the information out there it will end speculation about precisely how close he was to various people in News International. But one detail has already leaked out and will cause controversy: Andy Coulson was a guest at Chequers several months after he quit the government. In some ways this is no great shock, Coulson — as Cameron said at last Friday’s press conference — is a friend of the Prime Minister and someone whose advice

Clegg contra the British Establishment

In some ways, Gordon Brown’s absurd speech yesterday evening felt like the crest of a wave. It’s not that the phone hacking scandal has gone away — far from it. But the initial surge of political activity and spite has abated, having achieved many of its immediate goals: the end of the BSkyB bid, a judge-led inquiry, and so on. Now, our politicians are entering the second phase of this crisis, which will be more about the wider picture and less about News International specifically. There was a hint of this in Nick Clegg’s interview with the Today programme earlier, a preview of a speech he is delivering later today.

A day like no other

Was there ever a PMQs like this? The mood was like a revolutionary court. On the central issue – the judge-led inquiry into the hacking affair – there was general agreement. But the doors of justice have been flung open at last and hosts of other crimes are rushing in to receive an airing. Ed Miliband arrived convinced that he had a killer question for Cameron. Assuming his favourite expression of indignant piety he asked about a specific warning given to Cameron’s chief of staff last February that Andy Coulson, when News of the World editor, had hired an ex-convict to bribe the cops. The effect was feeble rather than

James Forsyth

News Corp withdraws its bid for BSkyB

Two things struck me about PMQs today and the Prime Minister’s statement on the forthcoming public inquiry. First, the Prime Minister took a very different approach to Andy Coulson than he did at his press conference last Friday. Today, all the emphasis was on how angry Cameron would be if the assurances given to him turned out to be false.   The second was that Cameron rowed away from suggesting statutory regulation of the press. He stressed that he favoured ‘independent’ not ‘statutory regulation’. This should be more acceptable to the press.   But, as so often in this scandal, these events have now been overtaken by the dramatic news

Hunt flounders in very choppy water

Jeremy Hunt’s statement today confirmed that News Corps’ takeover bid for BSkyB was being referred to the Competition Commission. But the questions afterwards were dominated by Labour questions about Andy Coulson’s appointment. Hunt could not answer whether or not Coulson had been positively vetted. Nor, could he say when Cameron and Coulson last spoke. Indeed, Hunt initially claimed Cameron had not spoken to his former director of communications since Coulson stepped down, before quickly correcting himself. The Culture Secretary did do a decent job of sounding reasonable and bemoaning Labour’s tone. But without a proper line on Coulson, he was left floundering. There were two other things worth noting from

The latest phone hacking revelations

The latest report from Robert Peston about how William Lewis has been cleaning house at News International makes for dramatic reading. Peston alleges that emails News International has been aware of since 2007 ‘appear to show Andy Coulson, editor of the News of the World from 2003-2007, authorising payments to the police for help with stories. They also appear to show that phone hacking went wider than the activities of a single rogue reporter, which was the News of the World’s claim at the time.’ Obviously, The Spectator must stress that nothing has been proved on either of these fronts. But if Peston’s report is accurate, it would also suggest that

Brooks stands firm

More fuel for the firestorm: this time, a letter by Rebekah Brooks, answering questions put to her by the Home Affairs select committee. It truth, it doesn’t say much that wasn’t either spelt out or suggested in Brooks’ earlier statement this week. But its three main assertions are still worth noting: Brooks had “no knowledge” about the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone, she claims; likewise for “any other cases during [her] tenure”; and “the practice of phone hacking is not continuing at the News of the World.” In the meantime, Labour are keeping up the political pressure — asking, now, for a judge-led inquiry to convene sooner, sooner, sooner, in

The story sticks to No.10

Big and bold, the contraction “No.10” appears on most of this morning’s front pages. Or, failing that, the words “former Cameron aide”. After the arrest of Andy Coulson yesterday, it was ever going to be thus. But it’s still a sign of how closely Downing Street is being bound into the phone hacking scandal. Cameron’s call, yesterday, for a judge-led inquiry into the whole, stinking affair — which was, you suspect, intended to deflect some of the heat away from his prime ministerial pulpit — is treated almost as a footnote. It’s all Cameron, Coulson, Cameron, Brooks. There’s more emphasis on Downing Street inside the papers, too. Continuing his recent

Miliband is running out of attacks — but he’ll use what he’s got

It’s a strange thing, amid all venom and spite over the phone hacking scandal, how the three main parties are actually converging on the same responses. A judge-led inquiry? That’s now party policy for them all. The end of the PCC? Likewise. In his press conference earlier, Cameron even came close to saying that Rebekah Brooks should have lost her job. For once, there are trace quantities of Agreeing With Ed in the air at Westminster. This is both a boon and a bitterness for Ed Miliband. A boon, because he can at least claim that Labour led the debate, and Cameron followed. A bitterness, because the politics of the

James Forsyth

Cameron makes poor start on the long road back

This was David Cameron’s most difficult press conference since becoming Tory leader. The Prime Minister refused to distance himself from Andy Coulson, a man he said was still his friend. But this loyalty to his ‘friend’ placed Cameron in an almost impossible situation. Cameron remarked defiantly that you’d be ‘pretty unpleasant if you forgot about him’ but the longer Cameron defends Coulson and his decision to hire him, the more this scandal will stick to him. Cameron repeatedly said that he gave Coulson ‘a second chance’. This is an awful line because it sounds like Cameron thinks he deserves credit for hiring him. Cameron needs to say urgently that he