David Cameron has come under fire for his judgement in appointing Andy Coulson, and his failure to apologise or answer key questions on this appointment. This has intensified over the last 36 hours, since the Met Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, resigned because of his his appointment of Neil Wallis, a former deputy editor of News of the World. Since Stephenson’s announcement, many have questioned why he must fall on his sword for doing almost exactly what Cameron had done — employing a former News of the World top dog.
Yesterday, I blogged on Labour’s attack line — that Cameron must answer questions about his judgement not only in appointing Coulson, but in continuing his relationship with him, and the knock-on effect this had on the ability of the Metropolitan Police to continue with their investigation.
Now, support for this view comes from an unlikely source — the Daily Telegraph. Their editorial today is worth quoting at length:
If there is to be an inquiry into police links with the media, why is the Government — and the Prime Minister in particular — apparently exempt from such forensic scrutiny?
Mr Cameron has made much of the importance of “transparency” in this affair, a point he repeated on his now-truncated trip to South Africa yesterday.
But he has not been frank with the public about his own relationship with News International executives, and Mrs Brooks in particular. It was reported in January that Mr Cameron and his wife were guests of Mrs Brooks at her home over Christmas. Yet establishing that simple fact, the date it occurred and the identities of those present has been like drawing blood from a stone.
Downing Street initially said that it was a private gathering of friends that had no official status; it then transpired that James Murdoch, head of News Corp’s operations in the UK, was there.
This was clearly a matter of public interest because at the time, Mr Murdoch’s company was bidding to take over BSkyB and Mr Cameron’s Government had a key role to play in deciding whether this should be allowed.
Mr Cameron wants to draw a distinction between, on the one hand, his relationship with Mrs Brooks and Mr Coulson, and on the other, the police’s relationship with Mr Wallis. But this simply won’t wash.
Last week, No 10 published a list (which was yesterday revealed to have been incomplete) of the Prime Minister’s official and semi-official meetings with a variety of people, including media executives.
A full account of his social engagements with Mrs Brooks and other NI executives is also required. It might help explain why he appointed Mr Coulson in the first place – a fateful decision that lies at the root of the difficulties he faces.
Ed Miliband told ITV this morning that he was not calling for Cameron to resign, saying: “I’m not saying that at the moment because you shouldn’t be over the top.” That is a valid point and it is important not to go overboard — but as those on both left and right demand to know more details of Cameron’s cosy relationship with top News International executives, he cannot afford to keep up his silence much longer.