The Andy Coulson phone hacking affair is in danger of descending into a political slanging match, when it is actually much more important than that. It is about press practices, the rule of law, personal privacy – not just the Coulson’s future as David Cameron chief spinner.
These are all issues one might expect Liberal Democrats to get excited about. But the party bigwigs have been silent on the matter – a far cry from before the election, when Chris Huhne said:
Andy Coulson’s defence is that he did not know what was going on despite the mounting evidence that his newsroom was widely using illegal phone hacking. Either he was complicit in crime, or he was one of the most incompetent Fleet Street editors of modern times. Neither should be a top recommendation to David Cameron.
Of course, it would be a bit different if Chris Huhne repeated those comments today, as Coulson now represents the government of which Huhne is a part.
This is the dilemma the Lib Dems have. They would love to get stuck into Coulson, but they know it would be too damaging for the coalition if they were to do so, not least because the Tories were so forthright in defending the Lib Dem David Laws when he got into trouble.
The problem is that as long as the Lib Dems leave well enough alone, the Tories can dismiss the affair as political game-playing by Labour.
So far, Lembit Opik, the former Lib Dem MP, and Adrian Sanders, a member of the culture select committee that looked into this during the last parliament, have both spoken out. But unless the party lets a really big hitting backbencher (unlikely to be Simon Hughes, as he doesn’t want to stir up his scandal again, but perhaps Charles Kennedy?) speak on the issue, the Tories will continue to paint this as a party political story, which it is not.
Just don’t expect that to happen any time soon.