If David Cameron thought the heat was off him and his decision to hire Andy Coulson, he was wrong, after it has emerged that Coulson was reportedly paid several hundred thousand pounds by News International after he was hired by the Conservative Party.
The BBC’s Robert Peston reports that Coulson received cash payments from his former employers until the end of 2007. He took up his post as director of communications at the Conservative party in July of that year, for which he was paid £275,000 a year.
According to sources, Mr Coulson’s contractual leaving pay was given to him in instalments until the end of 2007 — which means he continued to be financially linked to News International for several months of his tenure as David Cameron’s main media adviser…
As I understand it, after Mr Coulson resigned from News International on 26 January 2007, News International said it would pay him his full entitlement under his two-year contract as editor of the News of the World – although the money would be paid in instalments.
I am told that Mr Coulson also continued to receive his News International work benefits, such as healthcare, for three years, and he kept his company car.
The allegations will raise fresh questions about how closely Coulson was scrutinised before he was appointed as one of Cameron’s most senior advisers. It emerged earlier this year that he had not been given the top level security clearance, as would be expected for such a senior official.
All indications are that senior members of the Conservative party had no idea of the arrangement. In February, a party spokesman said he was “100 per cent satisfied” there was no truth in the suggestion. Just last month, on 12 July, a “senior Conservative party official” told the Guardian:
We can give categorical assurances that he wasn’t paid by any other source. Andy Coulson’s only salary, his only form of income, came from the party during the years he worked for the party and in government.
Tom Watson points out on his blog that this new information would appear to contradict what Coulson told him in the 2009 select committee hearing:
Tom Watson: So your sole income was News International and then your sole income was the Conservative Party?.
Mr Coulson: Yes.
While the period in question ended before Cameron became prime minister, Watson has suggested that the money could count as a donation, which therefore should have been declared, under electoral law. This seems tenuous, but the fact that Coulson was still receiving payment from News International certainly raises questions over his impartiality, and shows serious incompetence on the part of those who were supposed to vet him — yet another indicator of the cosy relationship between News International and power.