Cameron refuses to deny Coulson resignation offer

PM insists Coulson is doing a “good job” but refuses to comment on resignation rumours.

David Cameron's appearance on this morning's Today programme was most notable for his refusal to deny that Andy Coulson has offered his resignation. "I don't go into private conversations," was all the Prime Minister would say when pressed by John Humphrys.

Elsewhere, Cameron offered his standard "everyone deserves a second chance" defence of Coulson. The former News of the World editor may have taken ultimate responsibility and resigned from the tabloid – how could he not? – but there are still unanswered questions over the phone-hacking scandal.

Cameron's communications chief 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 has been repeatedly undermined by new evidence. Most significantly, in a recent Channel 4 Dispatches investigation (presented by that notable Labour stooge, Peter Oborne), a former senior NoW journalist revealed that Coulson had personally listened to intercepted voicemail messages.

He told 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".

In any case, as I have repeatedly pointed out, if Coulson did know about the scandal then he's too wicked to stay in his post, and if he didn't know then he's too stupid. Cameron is right; everyone does deserve a second chance – but not until they've fully atoned for their original sins.

As Steve Hilton is said to be arguing in private, Coulson's continued presence in No 10 makes a mockery of Cameron's claim to have turned his back on the sleaze of the New Labour era.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.