Andy Coulson ‘will have to go over phone tapping’
The Mole: David Cameron says he is ‘relaxed’ about the Coulson affair – but he won’t be for long, says our Westminster insider
David Cameron employed former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his director of communications precisely to bring his red-top tabloid skills into the heart of the Tory media machine. He may now be forced to sack him for the same reason.
Coulson was only available to Cameron in the first place because he had resigned as editor of the Sunday newspaper in 2007 after taking responsibility for the tapping of the phones of royal staff by a NoW journalist who, along with a private investigator, was jailed for the offence.
Now it is claimed by the Guardian that thousands of similar offences were committed, with the paper's owner paying almost £1m in out-of-court settlements to victims to keep the practice quiet, and Coulson is again insisting he knew nothing about it. That is being challenged and it is likely Coulson will again have to defend himself and could even be interviewed by the police if a fresh investigation is launched.
Labour certainly isn't going to let this one rest. Gordon Brown was badly damaged by the Damian McBride affair, which saw the Downing Street spin doctor planning a smear campaign against the Tories. The chance of hitting back at the Tories is just too good for Labour bosses to ignore and they have their sights firmly trained on Coulson.
One of the targets of the tapping, former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, has urged a new police inquiry and demanded the sacking of Coulson from Tory HQ.
"I find it absolutely staggering that Andy Coulson can go to be the communication officer for the Tory party. Surely Andy Coulson can't be the man who's been supervising all this activity as the editor in charge of the paper and still stay in that job? I hope Mr Cameron will clear him out," he said.
It may well be that Coulson is entirely innocent in all this, and some of the phone tapping happened after he had left the paper. But that is not going to stop the demands for a full explanation. And that could throw up such a storm of claims and counter claims that it simply becomes impossible for Cameron to keep Coulson in his post.
So far Cameron has said he is "relaxed" about the claims, with a spokeswoman even suggesting it was ridiculous the way the story was being "ramped up". It is a fair bet to say there is much more to come and Cameron may become less relaxed.
The Tory leader is desperate to cast himself as the cleanest politician in town and will not relish having a story like this lapping around his legs day after day.
The betting in Westminster is that Coulson will have to go. And, if Cameron is to avoid getting embroiled in the row, sooner rather than later. ·
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