The Slog examines the part that Coulson and Brown may yet play in David Cameron’s downfall
There was a sense in the air yesterday, both at Westminster and in the media, that the Government has lost control of Hackgate management; or more especially, that Camerlot has. By Camerlot, I mean the people close to the Prime Minister in the Cabinet and 10 Downing Street, and around his country pile in Chipping Norton: for what’s been clear for some time is that this isn’t a Coalition Government. It isn’t even a Tory Government. It’s a Camerlot Government.
I will return to this theme later, but for now I wish merely to record that (while this is a view I’ve held since February) as of yesterday afternoon, other commentators were starting to think – albeit in private – that David Cameron won’t survive Hackgate. For me personally, Gordon Brown’s broadcast views were pivotal to that view.
In a nutshell, if revelations about the nature of this scandal don’t get any worse, then Cameron will survive with ease. Until yesterday, the media had largely stuck to banging on about the PM’s judgement. Miliband scored a few goals from ten inches out, and Jeremy Hunt gave a robustly indifferent performance in the Commons sufficient to suggest that he’s trapped between a crock and a tarred case. But worse things happen at sea.
However, as the depth of Newscorp depravity and the fixed smile beneath Murdoch’s pork-pie hat continued to turn a PR disaster into a business meltdown, David Cameron caved in under the pressure. He gave his blessing to an All-Party motion asking the Murdochs to withdraw their BSkyB bid – on a permanent rather than Machiavellian basis; and he was forced to sit down with Clegg and Miliband to reach a consensus about how the scandal would be handled in the immediate Parliamentary future. There is a very simple reason why he did this: by yesterday lunchtime, the Conservative Whips were telling him they couldn’t guarantee a majority against the motion Miliband had proposed about the unfit and improper nature of Newscorp. What The Slog predicted last Sunday had come to pass: even the Tory Right now thinks a vote defending the likes of Rebekah Brooks is a little like being an apologist for Rosemary West.
The key phrase in my book is ‘ if revelations about the nature of this scandal don’t get any worse’. I think we can all assume they will: Brooks herself (she having the discretion of a dayglo barrage balloon) has already said there is much worse for Newscorp to endure. And my own Fleet Street contacts confirm this with certainty. The Wapping Dam Busters are determined that it will get worse.
But ‘worse’ in what direction?
Highly significant yesterday was former Met security boss Andy Hayman’s bizarre outburst of auto-sainthood in front of Keith Vaz’s Select Committee. The man’s attitude had to be seen to be believed: while I can appreciate the chagrin of any copper being patronised by the sanctimony of a dodgy character like Vaz, even so the arrogance of Hayman’s ham act suggested to me a man who sees himself as somehow above the fray. One would wonder seriously about his judgement if that’s really what he thinks; he doesn’t, of course – Mr Hayman (himself a Newscorp employee) believes in offence as the best form of defence. It certainly offended me: but Hayman is a litigious character, so we must leave it there.
Yes, it will get much worse for the Metropolitan Police. This should be a trap-free zone for Cameron: he’s expressed confidence in the police, rather as one would expect a patrician shires Tory to do: but he didn’t either approve or laud any of the players involved. All the solids that might hit the fan should have little stickers on them saying ‘under the last Government’: he ought to feel squeaky-clean.
But does he?
Camerlot’s lost control would seem at first sight to face its greatest dangers within the political sphere. First, the Coalition formed by Cameron is all over the place, some of the newer intake are losing faith in their Leader, and over at City Hall Boris Johnson continues to plot what he sees as his unstoppable rise to power. Johnson has been very critical of the Met police – but also attacked those on the Hard Left who would destabilise the force for purely polemic reasons. This puts him in a strong position as a power-broker in the shuffling about that is (at the very least) now certain to come about. While the two men enjoy the sort of cordial relationship one would expect between chaps who share the same school tie, the truth is that Johnson sees Dave as not at all what the Country needs. Boris thinks that the country needs a jolly good dose of him.
His affected buffoonery should be ignored: he is a smart man, and in private isn’t happy to see a whole chunk of the Right Wing press disappear. Lest we forget, he is a hack himself. As he is currently a Mayor, I still think Boris isn’t ready to move yet; I’m not sure after the events of the last five days he would go for it even if he could. My hunch is that BoJo would like to save the Party from a situation in which it was very seriously floundering. He’ll keep his eye on things, and wait until it really is.
It’s another area that I now sense could do for Cameron. That is, just how deep did his relationship with Newscorp go both before and after the General Election of 2010? Scanning the American press last night, it was interesting to see how they are beginning to report the UK’s Hackgate scandal from the perspective of a culture that experienced Watergate: the Washington Post questions keep on being repeated: what did he know? And when did he know it?
There was also Deep Throat’s infamous advice, “Follow the money”. But the only reason he said this was because Woodward and Bernstein had obtained audited details of Nixon’s re-election campaign. More likely to help in the Cameron/Newscorp context, I think, is who did he know? When did he know them? And what did they get up to?
As for the Chipping Norton set, most gossips continue to insist that the vast majority of them are keen on The Real Thing, and we’re not talking Pepsi-Cola here. I still think that the thought of detailed, evidenced revelations about this coming to light may well be something the PM fears: even in 2011, we are looking at an illegal drug. If such allegations were proved – or even accusations made with enough force and credibility – David Cameron would be history. This isn’t stuff about which you can claim ‘I didn’t inhale’. Inhalation is the whole point. The Slog is also picking up repeated rumours about what regularly turns James Murdoch on. There is more to be known in this area; and there is a logical conclusion to be drawn…..that this is why Rebekah Brooks is still extant: she has the negatives, as we used to say before digitalisation.
If it remains scurrilous rumour and accusation, then again Cameron is in the clear. It’s the When did He Know Them? question that’s been exercising my mind this week.
David Cameron became Tory leader in 2006, and hired Andy Coulson as a personal, Party-paid adviser during 2007. Whatever he says today, the PM hired him on George Osborne’s advice as a means of easy access to Rupert Murdoch. In 2007, Newscorp was still officially supporting the Blair Government – although its picky patriarch was having doubts. By 2009 (when the Murdochs were very wobbly about Brown – and blagging his medical records) Cameron and Rebekah Brooks were already close – he and his wife Samantha attended her second marriage to Charlie Brooks in June of that year. During this mini-epoch, Murdoch switched sides from Labour to Conservative. He listened to, and accepted, Rebekah’s counsel on the matter.
By June 2010, Coulson had followed David Cameron into Downing Street. Enough people to fill Wembley stadium told the Prime Minister that Coulson was dodgy. He ignored them all in his relentless determination to keep Murdoch onside. The Old Boy, it seemed, was unhappy with Dave’s new Coalition partners: they weren’t on-message enough. And who was this bloke Clegg?
What did the Cameron/Coulson/Brooks troika get up to during that two and a half-year period when the Conservatives were still in Opposition? I’ve no idea at the moment; but one fact stands out like the dog’s proverbials: Brooks is, unaccountably, still in a job. She is (to me, obviously) in possession of some very toxic information.
But under pressure, the PM has sort of dumped her by saying that, had he been Murdoch, he’d have accepted her resignation. From a man who staunchly defended Coulson right up to his arrest, this was advice which Rupe perhaps took with a pinch of salt. And as of yesterday, Cameron accepted the All-Party ‘disapproval’ of Murdoch himself.
So you’d think this leaves Andy Coulson, by a process of elimination, as the one man left standing who may know enough to deal Cameron a mortal blow. Perhaps he is, but there are others at the fringes of the radar.
Let’s go back to Coulson’s modus operandi and contacts. Previously on Hackgate, last April 28th the Slog wrote a longish examination of the closeness or otherwise of Coulson’s working relationship with Andy Hayman between roughly 2002 and 2008, before they went their separate ways. That they cooperated on news story/Met Police stings is irrefutable. There were also accusations that, during the Met’s second hacking enquiry, Hayman blocked access to files incriminating Coulson, but they remained just that – unsubstantiated. Hayman has a long background in security. Coulson is believed to have ordered the hacking of at least one national security phone involved in an anti-IRA sting. Coulson told the Tommy Sheridan jury that he “may have had a cup of tea with Andy Hayman once or twice”. Like most of Andy’s testimony that day, the statement is almost certainly bollocks.
Jump-cut now to the one-time Great Helmsman of Cool Britannia.
As of yesterday, Gordon Brown began talking openly about how his medical records were blagged by Newscorp. The Slog’s predecessor Not Born Yesterday achieved a level of infamy in October 2009 for publishing the simple fact that negative rumours about Brown’s mental (depression) and physical (eyesight) health were circulating throughout Whitehall and Westminster. I am happy to confirm that I didn’t hack any midair phones or blag any Eye Hospital records as background for the story: my main sources were two civil servants, three MPs, an adman, a Tory Party activist, and a prominent medical practitioner by proxy.
However, one of those MPs (and a since deceased senior Mandarin) were adamant that the Tory Shadow Cabinet were completely aware of Brown’s alleged condition. In the latter case, the phrase used was “they have all the details they need about Brown’s state of health”. In the light of Gordon Brown’s statement, I do find that information even more disturbing than I did back then. Remember, my concern (anger even) at the time was partly based on the Whitehall accusation that Camerlot was pursuing a deliberate policy of keeping the holed Titanic Brown in his job as Prime Minister. (This observation, by the way, didn’t stop me from becoming an immediate pariah to the Left, and an Unperson at the Rusbridger Guardianista).
The question I’m asking myself now is, how was the Tory Shadow Cabinet so certain about the alleged mental and physical health of Gordon Brown at the time? And believe me, it wasn’t from reading nby, which had a circulation of around 1500 at the time.
As things move on and buried bodies are exhumed, away from purely corporate or legal ramifications it seems to me there are three important players who between them could end David Cameron’s career: Andy Coulson, Andy Hayman, and perhaps even Gordon Brown. Events in all three areas should be closely observed.
As to Rebekah Brook’s career, that’s over anyway. But a focus on her bylines (if any) between 2001-2003, and 2007-2010, might mean her going Direct to Jail. Or not, allegedly.
There are so many players in this saga now, we need a reasoned audit about who’s worried and why across the piece. If I have time, that will appear later today; if not tomorrow.
In the meantime, another day of potential drama dawns.