I wrote yesterday that David Cameron and the Tories in general are finding themselves on the wrong side of public opinion over phone hacking. Some think it is far worse than that.
Peter Oborne has written columns in both the Spectator and the Telegraph today ripping into Cameron and his government for their ties to News International. In a piece for The Telegraph headlined David Cameron is in the sewer because of his News International friends, Oborne says phone hacking will be as damaging for Cameron as Iraq was for Tony Blair. He says:
David Cameron, who has returned from Afghanistan as a profoundly damaged figure, now faces exactly such a crisis. The series of disgusting revelations concerning his friends and associates from Rupert Murdoch’s News International has permanently and irrevocably damaged his reputation.
Mike Smithson disagrees however, saying “We’ve only just seen the first phase of [Cameron's] response.”
I disagree with Oborne for other reasons:
1) The mistake of appointing Andy Coulson has already been made. Coulson is now out of Number 10. If it is proved that Coulson broke the law, Cameron could claim he was misled by his former chief spinner. It would look like poor judgement, but it wouldn’t necessarily mean Cameron lied to voters or parliament.
2) Labour is just as tainted by connection with News International, limiting their scope for capitalising on the scandal. Ed Miliband played his hand well at Wednesday’s PMQs, but he is late to the issue and people realise that. As Oborne points out, Miliband, Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander were all at News International’s summer party paying homage to Rupert along with Cameron and other prominent Tories. Miliband is worried pushing too hard on the issue will give him three years of negative coverage, but the bigger risk is that he opens himself and his party up to charges of hypocrisy given how hard Labour has courted the Murdoch press. Miliband, of course, has his own former News International press chief in the form of Tom Baldwin, the former Times man.
Can Cameron get himself on the front foot? Perhaps not, and it is likely he will suffer more damage as further claims come out, especially if there is more on Coulson’s role in illegal activities. But it might not matter: that side of the story reached its peak when Coulson resigned. It is very quickly going to move onto the rest of the media and journalistic ethics in general.