Coulson's troubles grow

A new criminal investigation is launched into whether Coulson committed perjury at the Sheridan tria

Earlier this month I speculated that Andy Coulson could eventually be charged with perjury. During Tommy Sheridan's trial last December, Coulson was memorably asked by Sheridan (who acted as his own counsel): "did the News of the World pay corrupt police officers?" He replied: "Not to my knowledge."

But since then, News International has passed emails to Scotland Yard allegedly showing that Coulson authorised payments to police officers in return for help with stories. Then there's the fact, as I've previously noted, that he admitted to the media select committee in 2003 that payments had been made, although he insisted they were "within the law".

Whatever the truth, Cameron's former director of communications is now under investigation by Strathclyde police for allegedly committing perjury. As well as denying that he had any knowledge of payments to the police, Coulson also told the court that he was unaware of illegal phone hacking by reporters.

Strathclyde police's assistant chief constable, George Hamilton, said: "Following our discussions with the crown, we have now been instructed to carry out a full investigation into allegations that witnesses gave perjured evidence in the trial of Tommy Sheridan and into alleged breaches of data protection and phone hacking.

"We will also be looking to see if we can uncover any evidence of corruption in the police service or any other organisation related to these inquiries.

Coulson is already the subject of two separate criminal investigations into allegations that he knew of phone hacking while editor of the NoW and that he authorised bribes to police officers. In his Commons statement earlier this week, Cameron alluded the possibility that Coulson could be charged with perjury.

He told the House: "I have said very clearly that if it turns out Andy Coulson knew about the hacking at the News of the World, he will not only have lied to me but he will have lied to the police, to a select committee, to the Press Complaints Commission and, of course, perjured himself in a court of law." Coulson was still working for Cameron when he appeared at the Sheridan trial.

Incidentally, Charles Moore's thoughtful and self-critical column in today's Telegraph ("I'm starting to think that the Left might actually be right") offers an important corrective to those who mourned the death of the "world's greatest investigative newspaper". Of the News of the World, he writes: "In its stupidity, narrowness and cruelty, and in its methods, the paper was a disgrace to the free press."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Will Jeremy Corbyn stand down if Labour loses the general election?

Defeat at the polls might not be the end of Corbyn’s leadership.

The latest polls suggest that Labour is headed for heavy defeat in the June general election. Usually a general election loss would be the trigger for a leader to quit: Michael Foot, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband all stood down after their first defeat, although Neil Kinnock saw out two losses before resigning in 1992.

It’s possible, if unlikely, that Corbyn could become prime minister. If that prospect doesn’t materialise, however, the question is: will Corbyn follow the majority of his predecessors and resign, or will he hang on in office?

Will Corbyn stand down? The rules

There is no formal process for the parliamentary Labour party to oust its leader, as it discovered in the 2016 leadership challenge. Even after a majority of his MPs had voted no confidence in him, Corbyn stayed on, ultimately winning his second leadership contest after it was decided that the current leader should be automatically included on the ballot.

This year’s conference will vote on to reform the leadership selection process that would make it easier for a left-wing candidate to get on the ballot (nicknamed the “McDonnell amendment” by centrists): Corbyn could be waiting for this motion to pass before he resigns.

Will Corbyn stand down? The membership

Corbyn’s support in the membership is still strong. Without an equally compelling candidate to put before the party, Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP are unlikely to initiate another leadership battle they’re likely to lose.

That said, a general election loss could change that. Polling from March suggests that half of Labour members wanted Corbyn to stand down either immediately or before the general election.

Will Corbyn stand down? The rumours

Sources close to Corbyn have said that he might not stand down, even if he leads Labour to a crushing defeat this June. They mention Kinnock’s survival after the 1987 general election as a precedent (although at the 1987 election, Labour did gain seats).

Will Corbyn stand down? The verdict

Given his struggles to manage his own MPs and the example of other leaders, it would be remarkable if Corbyn did not stand down should Labour lose the general election. However, staying on after a vote of no-confidence in 2016 was also remarkable, and the mooted changes to the leadership election process give him a reason to hold on until September in order to secure a left-wing succession.

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