New phone-hacking questions for Coulson

Tory spin chief said to have "personally listened" to hacked phone messages.

Just in time for the Conservative conference, come yet more revelations about the News of the World phone-hacking scandal and Tory spin chief Andy Coulson's alleged role in it.

Coulson maintains that he had no knowledge of the affair and that the former royal editor Clive Goodman, jailed in 2007 for hacking into the phones of royal staff, was the only reporter involved. But this "rotten apples" excuse is rather undermined by a new finding from tonight's Channel Four Dispatches investigation.

A former senior NoW journalist reveals that Coulson personally listened to intercepted voicemail messages. He tells the programme:

Sometimes, they would say: 'We've got a recording' and Andy would say: 'OK, bring it into my office and play it to me' or 'Bring me, email me a transcript of it.'

It's never good news for a spin doctor when they become the story and the idea that Coulson, then NoW editor, was one of the few people at the paper who didn't know about the scandal is risible. In any case, as I've argued before, if Coulson did know then he's too wicked to stay in his post, and if he didn't know then he's too stupid.

Tonight's programme is presented by Peter Oborne, formerly of the Daily Mail and now chief political commentator of the Daily Telegraph, which should give it some real bite. Oborne, one of David Cameron's strongest supporters on Fleet Street, can't be dismissed as a partisan hack or a Labour lackey.

For now, the media's focus is rightly on Osborne's cuts but you do sense that Coulson is living on borrowed time.

UPDATE: Courtesy of Tweetminister, you can hear a preview of tonight's programme from Peter Oborne by clicking below.

Listen!

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Philip Hammond's house gaffe is a reminder of what the Tories lost when David Cameron left

The Chancellor of the Exchequer's blunder confirmed an old fear about the Conservative Party. 

Philip Hammond got into a spot of bother this morning describing the need for a transitional agreement with the European Union by comparing it to moving into a house, saying: "you don't necessarily move all your furniture in on the first day you buy it”.

This immediately surprised a lot of people, because for most people, you do, in fact, move all of your furniture in on the first day you buy a house. Or rent a house, or a flat, or whatever. Most people who buy houses are part of housing chains – that is, they sell their house to raise some of the capital to buy another one, or, if they are first-time buyers, they are moving from the private rented sector into a house or flat of their own.

They don’t, as a rule, have a spare bolthole for “all their furniture” to wait around in. Hammond’s analogy accidentally revealed two things – he is rich, and he owns more than one home. (I say “revealed”. Obviously these are things you can find out by checking the register of members’ interests, but they are, at least, things that are not immediately obvious hearing Hammond speak.)

That spoke to one major and recurring Conservative weakness: that people see them as a party solely for the rich. Focus groups conducted by BritainThinks consistently showed that when people were asked which group of TV families might vote Conservative, the only one that people consistently picked were the “posh couple” from GoggleBox.

David Cameron’s great achievement as Conservative leader was in winning two elections – the first, in 2010, the most successful night for the Conservatives since 1931, with 97 gains overall, the second, their first parliamentary majority for 23 years – despite being a graduate of Eton and Oxford leading a party that most voters fear will only look out for the rich.

He did it by consistently speaking and acting as if he were significantly less well-to-do than he was. Even his supposed 2013 gaffe when asked what the price of bread was – when he revealed that he preferred to use a breadmaker – projected a more down-to-earth image than his background suggested His preferred breadmaker cost a hundred quid and could easily have been found in any upper-middle class home in any part of his country. One of Cameron’s great successes was in presenting himself as an affable upper-middle-class dad to the nation, when he was in fact, well-to-do enough to employ a literal breadmaker had he so chosen.

This is slightly unfair on Philip Hammond who went to a state school in Essex and is by any measure less posh than Cameron. But his gaffe speaks to their big post Cameron problem (and indeed their big pre-Cameron problem) which is that while many conservative ideas are popular, the Conservative Party isn’t. Most of their big politicians are a turn-off, not a turn-on.

And until they can find a genuine replacement for David Cameron, miserable results like 2017 may become the norm, rather than the exception. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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