Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation yesterday was a significant moment in the phone hacking affair: not only because of the fact of his resigning but because of what he said afterwards.
He made two subtle but important criticisms of the prime minister:
1) He said he had resigned in part for having employed Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of the News of the World, who has since been arrested, but did not have to resign from the NotW for his part in the scandal. He compared this to Andy Coulson, who had been forced to resign, but was also given subsequent employment – by the prime minister.
2) Sir Paul also said he did not want to “compromise the prime minister” by telling him about Wallis’ involvement either with the Met or the fact that he was a suspect in the hacking affair, given Cameron’s “close relationship with Mr Coulson”. This came close to, without doing so directly, saying that Cameron could not have been trusted with such information, and may have jeopardised the operation (or at least been accused of jeopardising it) by telling Coulson. It’s an extraordinary claim, which Yvette Cooper was quick to highlight, saying it was a
very serious concern that the Met commissioner felt unable to tell the prime minister and the home secretary [Theresa May] about this operational issue with Neil Wallis because of the prime minister’s relationship with Andy Coulson.
Cooper also elaborated on the first point, arguing:
People will wonder at why different rules apply for the Prime Minister and the Met, especially when as Sir Paul said himself, unlike Andy Coulson, Neil Wallis had not been forced to resign from the News of the World.
In essence: Stephenson had to resign for appointing Wallis, why shouldn’t Cameron resign for appointing Coulson?
It is a point that Ed Miliband picked up on on Monday morning, saying Stephenson’s resignation was in “sharp contrast” to the behaviour of David Cameron, who had “failed even to apologise”.
Labour officials tell me the leadership will not call for Cameron to resign – they believe it is implausible that he will do so over this affair. But they are deliberately hinting at the possibility of a resignation, which helps keep the flames of controversy fuelled.
UPDATE: Over in Africa, Jason Groves of the Mail has just asked the PM if he would resign. I think that’s the first time he’s been asked that – probably the first time in his premiership. Here’s his response:
The British government, in terms of the phone hacking scandal, has taken all of the appropriate actions. We have set up a judicial inquiry, we have made sure there is a properly funded police investigation. We have published huge amounts of information about any meetings between politicians and senior media executives.
So I think we have given a very clear answer. Parliament is going to come back on Wednesday, I’m going to make a big statement updating what we are doing with the judicial inquiry. I will be able to answer any of the questions that have come up in the last couple of days. I feel I have been out there in parliament, in press conferences fully answering the questions, fully transparent, very clear about what needs to be done – making sure that Britain gets to the bottom of what has been a terrible episode in terms of what newpapers have done, hacking into private data. And also some very big questions about potential police corruption. We need to get to the bottom of those.