HACKGATE EXCLUSIVE: Downing St aide Hilton wanted Cameron to dump Newscorp last Thursday

Hilton….Camerlot strategy director

Number 10 at 6s and 7s

David Davies calls scandal ‘criminal failure’

The Slog has learned from senior Conservative sources today that David Cameron’s general guru, strategist and media adviser Steve Hilton tried until the eleventh hour during Wednesday and Thursday last week to persuade the Prime Minister to unequivocally dump Newscorp at his Hackgate press conference. Key figures at Westminster claim they are still mystified as to why Cameron would have overruled the advice, and Tory backbenchers are unhappy with their leader’s seeming unwillingness to distance himself more decisively from the scandal’s toxicity. Meanwhile, Cameron is said by insiders tonight to be ‘desperate’ to head off Ed Miliband’s proposed motion to postpone the BSkyB takeover indefinitely.

I understand from one source that the main antagonist to Hilton’s advice last week was the Chancellor George Osborne – although this is unconfirmed. Either way, the sources I’ve contacted are reliable enough – and what they say logical enough – to convince me to run the story. Senior Ministers who were contacted had refused to either confirm or deny these alleged events at the time of posting. (17:35 BST Sunday)

Solid media contacts told me last month that Hilton has for a long time been opposed to Camerlot licking Newscorp all over. “We don’t need Murdoch – he’s yesterday,” Hilton apparently told a senior Fleet Street manager recently…..before the Milly Dowler outrage broke cover. Hilton was tipped off before the 2010 Election that Andy Coulson had links with ‘a corrupt detective’. Gosh, we ask ourselves, who on earth might that be? Step forward [deleted by caring lawyers].

Although a member of the infamous Chipping Norton set, Steve Hilton’s long-held assumption of Wapping criminality has been proved right in spades. He shared warnings about Coulson with other members of Mr Cameron’s inner circle before May 2010, but Cameron brushed aside his strategy director’s advice as jealousy. There is celebrity to be had this Sunday evening by declaring that you didn’t warn the PM off Coulson; sadly, I can’t claim it. Just before Christmas The Slog quite explicitly warned a senior Cabinet Minister of Coulson’s likely guilt. The advice was duly passed on….and ignored.

At the same time, more junior (and largely truculent) Tories were this afternoon suggesting that Rupert Murdoch is now too toxic to ever be a useful ally again anyway. Having long ago positioned himself as the Party’s Mister Clean, Cameron’s former leadership opponent and Shadow Home Secretary David Davies has been quoted over the weekend as observing that Hackgate “is a failure of criminal law” – and not one of judgement.

In the light of Labour’s talk of tabling a Commons motion next Wednesday to throw out Murdoch’s planned BSkyB takeover (using OfCom as the medium of choice) the pressure on the Prime Minister is now immense. It is possible that Tory rebels  could help the motion be debated. Equally, it is certain that a great many Britons will be both disappointed and suspicious if the motion to debate is defeated: it will, once again, look like the Establishment protecting its own kind. Within the last half-hour, in fact, the FT has confirmed that Labour’s motion next Wednesday calling on the government to delay a BSkyB deal is likely to be joined by Lib Dems from the government benches with Chris Huhne, the energy secretary, and Simon Hughes, deputy party leader, both suggesting their party could well back it.

The Tory Right is now placed in a difficult position. It loathes Camerlot, but doesn’t want a victorious Labour/LibDem rebellion destabilising the Government to the point where David Cameron has to go….only to be replaced by somebody else it doesn’t like. Boris Johnson waits in the wings of London’s Mairie, but he is miles away from being in a legal or political position to take over.

Over in Fortress Wapping, a not very nice old man is wondering which string he can pull next. In the Downing Street Bunker, meanwhile, a not very confident young man is wondering which one of several ropes might hang him.

It promises to be yet another fascinating week ahead.