Sunday, 3 October 2010

Its the cover-up that means Andy Coulson can not survive

Channel Four has a report extending the phone-tapping allegations against David Cameron’s director of communications Andy Coulson. Coulson has always claimed he knew nothing of the widespread phone-tapping and culture of illegality at the newspaper while he was in charge. And now a former colleague has said that Coulson liked to listen to the intercepted messages and read the transcripts to check the sources of stories himself.

The anonymous former colleague tells the Dispatches programme:

"Sometimes, they would say: 'We've got a recording' and Andy would say: 'OK, bring it into my office and play it to me' or 'Bring me, email me a transcript of it.'"

It has long been clear that any proper investigation would have found the ‘bad apple’ theory of the sole jailed reporter incredible. For a wide series of reasons about the culture of power in British media, politics and policing, it is to our collective shame that it took the New York Times to send an investigative team whose report would surely persuade any impartial witness who could be found of that.

Tonight and tomorrow, we can expect the usual stonewalling and ‘don’t we all know this already’ which occurs every time there is a significant further development in this case.

But my judgement is that Andy Coulson will not be able to survive in his role.

Probably not this week, with Dave in the spotlight, maybe not this month, but sometime before Christmas, there will have to be a change in Downing Street.

Otherwise, turning a blind eye to the indefensible may well come to also fatally undermine the integrity of the Prime Minister himself.

And the Coulson case is a classic exemplar of the great rule of political scandal, from Watergate on.

It always is the cover-up that gets you in the end

Coulson’s fatal sin is not his involvement in the illegal activity itself while editor of the News of the World. There is no coming back because he can not now change his story to align it with the emerging facts without admitting that he lied to Parliament, the leader of the Opposition and then Prime Minister.

The only plausible defence of Andy Coulson is this:

He was a tabloid editor. He did tabloid things. That was how the game was played. It was wrong – and illegal. But everybody was doing it. And now they (say they) have cleaned up their act. He resigned from his job as a tabloid editor when his reporter went to prison.

That was a heavy price to pay. He’s good at his new job. He has behaved properly in his conduct within it. Everybody deserves a second chance.

And it would be an arguable defence. Personally, I would be inclined to defend it, as a bleeding heart liberal rehabilitationist – if he had told the truth when he resigned.

But it seems blindingly obvious that he did not.

That leaves two possible worlds.

Firstly, that his denials of any knowledge of the tapping are true. As Andrew Neil has said, this stretches credulity beyond breaking point. But perhaps Andy Coulson was the one hyper-driven Murdoch tabloid editor who had no interest at all in where his scoops were coming from. (And this, remember, is the man about whose conduct an employment tribunal awarded exemplary damages because he bullied a colleague out of his newspaper when the reporter failed to stand up a tip about the colour of Arsenal’s third strip!).

All I can say about that is that there is not a single independent voice in any newsroom in London who could be found to say that they find his account credible. Everybody in government knows it. And they can not employ the “everybody deserves a second chance” defence

Secondly, if he wants to change his account now, he can only do so by acknowledging that he lied to Parliament while working for David Cameron.

Perhaps we are all being a little bit British about it, but there really is no way back from that.

For Coulson – particularly if he wants to stop and think to put the interests of David Cameron first - it is surely now long past the time to stop digging.


13eastie said...

Yes, Sunder.

The anonymous "testimony" of somebody:

a) who has chosen to make his "revelations" to Channel 4 rather than the police

b) is keeping his identity secret, preventing any examination of his motives to be made

c) is unable to produce any actual evidence other than the story that he's been keeping to himself for years

makes it an open and shut case...

After wasting five months selecting a second choice leader, how about some policy instead of this nonsense?

tris said...

Maybe we are too "british" about it.

Faair play don't ye know, cricket and all that stuff. Jolly good then....

Maybe we should just acknowledge that they are all at it. They cheat, they lie, they stand on other people's faces and sell their grandmothers and some of them steal. They wouldn't have got where they are if they didn't do all these things.

Then we can accept that anything they ever say about anything is liable to be a pack of lies designed to make them look good, sharp, in the loop, knowledgable, statesman like or something else that they want to be.

It's the truth after all and being british never got us very far.

tris said...


I don't think it's nonsense.

It's only nonsense when you want to cover up the fact that this guy has lied through his teeth, which is supposedly a great sin... not that it is, because they all do it, all the time.

................................. said...

It's worth noting that repeating a defamation is no defence.

Libertarian said...

Yes yes all very Wicked and Malicious Oh hang on

james said...

what a well argued post.
In agreement with your analysis I took a bet on the gone by xmas theory with two national journalists during lib dem conference. Easiest bet this year...and deep down my scribbler friends knew it...but they felt no choice but to take the bet because, as they said to me, if coulson goes we're all in the @"*$

13eastie said...


james - it's only well-argued if you choose deliberately to ignore the fact that the Fabians' new-found fondness for truthfulness in Parliament seem to have arisen some time after we invaded Iraq.

Campbell kept his job after the forty-five minute claim.

100,000 Iraqi civilians weren't so lucky.

Labour and the Fabians vacated the moral high ground a long time ago as far as lying to parliament is concerned.