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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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

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