Coulson's return to the fray is bad news for Cameron

It is not helpful for a man about to stand trial to remind everyone just how well he knows "David".

The news that Boris Johnson has his eyes on David Cameron's job might not count as much of a revelation but in this case it's the source that's notable: Andy Coulson. Three months before he stands trial on charges of phone-hacking, Cameron's former director of communications has broken his silence in GQ

Offering his "ten-point masterplan for saving David Cameron and stopping Labour in 2015", Coulson writes that Boris "desperately wants to be prime minister and David has known that fact longer than most", adding that "stabbing David, or anyone else for that matter, in the back would be distinctly off brand – just not very Boris.  He would much prefer to see David fail miserably in the election and ride in on his bike to save party and country."

Elsewhere, he offers a rather banal assessment of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, wrongly suggesting (in my view) that Miliband's decision to appoint Balls as shadow chancellor is the "gift that will keep on giving" and that the differences between the pair will prove as significant as those between Blair and Brown.

He writes: "The prime minister should pray Ed Balls remains shadow chancellor until the election … Appointing him as George's opposite number was the Miliband gift that will keep on giving … The Tories must look for the divisions and make the most of them a) because they are most certainly real – always a plus – and b) because it's history repeating itself.

"We are in this hole at least in part because of the shamefully dysfunctional Blair/Brown relationship. Labour's two Eds dislike each other and each thinks he is smarter than the other. The Conservatives should imagine in some detail how it would work if they actually won … and share that vision with the British public."

But regardless of the validity or otherwise of Coulson's political analysis, his return to the fray is unambiguously bad news for Cameron. As the PM attempts to counter Ed Miliband's charge that he "stands up for the wrong kind of people", it is not helpful for a man about to stand trial to remind everyone that he's on first name terms with the prime minister ("David"). 

Conversely, others will point to Coulson's piece as evidence of exactly the kind of political nous that Downing Street currently lacks. There is a popular view among Tory MPs that Cameron's woes stem in part from his decision to surround himself with Etonian "chums", rather than working class Thatcherites of Coulson's variety. It is also argued that the former News of the World editor would not have allowed relations with the ring-wing press to deteriorate to the point where the Daily Telegraph, the house magazine of the Conservative Party, all but declares war on Cameron and the Sun, just three years after describing Cameron as "our only hope", refuses to even endorse the Tories at the local elections. 

Coulson's intervention, then, offers openings for Cameron's enemies on both the left and the right. Ahead of the trial, Downing Street must have hoped for a period of dignified silence from Coulson; that wish has not been granted. 

Andy Coulson leaves the High Court in London on May 10, 2012 after giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.