Goodbye Andy. And good riddance

Some random thoughts on Coulson’s resignation.

1) Where's Jo Moore these days? Remember the good ol' "good day to bury bad news" and 9/11? The problem for the Tories is that the news hasn't been buried – by Blair's return appearance at the Iraq inquiry or by Alan Johnson's resignation as shadow chancellor – and is leading all the bulletins, even on the BBC, which basically ignored the story for as long as it could.

2) That Coulson couldn't spin his own departure in a suitable manner speaks volumes about his skills (or lack thereof) as a top-level spinner.

3) That Cameron decided to back his director of communications so publicly – on Monday morning's Today programme – less than 72 hours before Coulson handed in his resignation speaks volumes about the Prime Minister's political judgement (or lack thereof) and so, too, of course, does his decision to hire Coulson in the first place.

4) It's been a bad 24 hours for the Chancellor, George Osborne. He'll have to raise his departmental game as he's now facing Ed Balls across the despatch box – Labour's most formidable economist (just ask Samuel Brittan of the FT!) and a brilliant political strategist, too. Plus, Boy George is the man who convinced Cameron to hire Coulson in order to (re-)build relations with the Murdoch empire and the right-wing press. Bad move.

5) Vince Cable's "war" against the Murdoch empire may have backfired but hats off to the Guardian's Nick Davies and the Labour MPs Tom Watson and Chris Bryant for leading the charge against the News of the World and the pathetic efforts by the Murdoch and Coulson apologists to shut this story down.

6) The Press Complaints Commission, the CPS and Scotland Yard should all hang their heads in shame and I'm sure they'll have to, at some stage in the near future. This story ain't going away.

7) On the issue of resignations, isn't it fascinating, in this era of leaks, gossip, 24-hour news channels, blogs and tweets, that both Labour and the Tories were able to keep their respective resignations (of Johnson and Coulson) under wraps and leak-proof? Johnson told Ed Mili that he was quitting on Monday; Coulson told Cameron he was standing down on Wednesday.

8) My then colleague James Macintyre predicted that Coulson would be gone within six months . . . four months ago. Semi-prophetic.

9) The political obituaries of Coulson seem to be glossing over his "bullying" of colleagues while editor of the News of the World. If you need a reminder, check out my NS column from September 2010 for the details.

10) Who succeeds Coulson as the Tories' – and the government's – spinner-in-chief? Will Cameron go for a Murdoch empire appointee? Ironically, Ed Miliband did (in the form of the ex-Times hack Tom Baldwin). Is the ex-Sun political editor George Pascoe-Watson the natural replacement? Or will it be the more thoughtful and Cameroonian ex-speechwriter and former Indie deputy editor Ian Birrell? Will the Lib Dems get a say in the appointment? Just kidding . . .

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war