Even Tories say Cameron’s head could roll now
Met police chief Stephenson drops the PM in it, raising speculation that this could go all the way
The tumbrils are rolling towards 10 Downing Street after the resignation yesterday of Sir Paul Stephenson as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and the arrest of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks.
David Cameron landed in South Africa at around 6 am today on an African trade mission while heads are still rolling at home. Even his own supporters are beginning to worry that the Prime Minister could be brought down by the hacking scandal because of his close and continuing association with the Murdoch empire.
Tory blogger and former Conservative candidate Iain Dale says: "I can't believe I am even writing this, but it is no longer an impossibility to imagine this scandal bringing down the Prime Minister or even the government."
Home Secretary Theresa May was due to make a statement to MPs this afternoon saying how reluctant she was to accept Sir Paul's resignation. Tory MPs will have no doubt about that - because it has put the spotlight back on Cameron, who had 26 meetings with Murdoch executives in 15 months after the election, and is part of the Chipping Norton set that includes Elisabeth Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, a personal friend.
The reason Conservatives are thinking the unthinkable is that, as James Forsyth of the Spectator put it, Sir Paul "kicked Cameron on the way out".
At his resignation press conference yesterday, Stephenson took an angry sideswipe at the PM, saying he had hired Neil Wallis, deputy editor of the News of the World, in October 2009, before it was known he was involved in phone hacking. He contrasted that with Cameron who had hired Andy Coulson after Coulson had resigned his job as editor because of phone hacking by his minions.
This left an awkward question hanging in the air, one that Theresa May will not be able to answer: if Sir Paul's head had to roll, why not Cameron's? The PM has been far closer than Stephenson to the Murdoch empire.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper called for more victims as she did the rounds of television studios last night, looking increasingly like one of the tricoteuse, the women who knitted at the foot of the guillotine in the French revolution. It can't be long before she gets her way – and first up could be John Yates, assistant commissioner of the Met, still loathed by Labour at Westminster for his bullish behaviour during the cash-for-honours police inquiry.
Blustering on the Today programme this morning, London Mayor Boris Johnson made it pretty clear that Yates could be next. He said Yates's handling of the hacking scandal would be discussed this morning at a meeting of the professional standards committee of the Metropolitan Police Authority. He said he could not pre-empt its hearing, but left the impression that Yates could be suspended.
Johnson also admitted he had called in Sir Paul Stephenson before his resignation and angrily told him he was "pretty hacked off" with the Met for the fact they had employed Wallis on a contract without telling him. In contrast to Theresa May's expression of regret, Johnson also said he thought Sir Paul's resignation was "the right call".
The only winner in the bloody July revolution is Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, who called boldly at the start of the campaign for Rebekah Brooks to go, and for a full judicial inquiry. He has got both.
In the Observer yesterday he called for tougher rules on media plurality, which would mean Murdoch's media holdings in the UK would have to be dismantled. Murdoch said last week he had no intention of selling his remaining News International titles, but Miliband has got the support of Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg - and David Cameron may have no choice but to go along with it, just as he had no choice last week but to go along with Miliband's call for a Commons debate to block the BSkyB takeover.
Who's running the country, some are asking, only half-joking – Miliband or Cameron? It's a question that was unthinkable only two weeks ago.
Rupert Murdoch and his son James now face their grilling by the Commons culture select committee tomorrow. Meanwhile, Sir Paul Stephenson, who remains in post at the Met until a replacement can be found, is due to give more evidence to the home affairs select committee on the allegations of a police cover-up over the hacking scandal.
Cameron had put aside time during his two-day South African trip to watch live the Murdochs giving evidence to the culture committee. Now he might be more inclined to watch what Sir Paul has to say to the home affairs committee. Is Stephenson planning to drop him in it even deeper? ·
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