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23 January 2011

Clegg defends Coulson

“I have no reason to disbelieve him,” says the Deputy Prime Minister.

By Sophie Elmhirst

Nick Clegg, on The Andrew Marr Show this morning, was forced to defend the Tories’ former communications chief Andy Coulson, who resigned from his post on Friday. These were his comments:

If you listen to what David Cameron has said, he said very emphatically that he thought it was right to give Andy Coulson a second chance. Andy Coulson has been very clear that he was not in any way responsible for phone-hacking and had no knowledge of it. I have no reason to disbelieve him.

Clegg plays a careful game here, relying on Cameron’s judgement (which has repeatedly been drawn into question over the Coulson affair) rather than voicing his own. And his backing of Coulson is guarded: having “no reason” to disbelieve someone is not the same as whole-heartedly defending them.

It can’t be comfortable for Clegg – being forced to speak out on behalf of a man whom his party publicly denounced before the coalition formed (in 2009, Chris Huhne stated of Coulson that “a future prime minister cannot have someone who is involved in these sorts of underhand tactics”).

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On the matter of who would be replacing Coulson (speculation about who this will be is intense – read the last point in Mehdi Hasan’s post), Clegg distanced himself again:

It is primarily a decision for the Prime Minister. He is the Prime Minister’s spokesman but he is also responsible for communicating government policy, so of course I will play a role as well.