I am rather surprised in the wake of Coulson’ s conviction for conspiracy over phone hacking none of the commentators have picked up the extraordinary passages about his appointment to the Tory Party in Matthew D’Ancona’s revealing book In It Together, The Inside Story of the Coalition Government.
In a series of purple passages he describes the determination of both George Osborne and David Cameron to woo him to become the £275k Conservative Party’s director of communications on 9 July 2007 – so soon after he resigned from the News of the World as editor over the conviction of Clive Goodman for phone hacking.
It is quite clear from Matthew’s account that Coulson himself had reservations about taking the job – which led him to become the Downing Street press secretary by 2010 at a salary of £140,000 a year – and in hindsight might suggest he was worried about further fall out over the phone hacking scandal.
But what is more extraordinary are the purple passages about Cameron’s passion for his professional abilities.. George Osborne is portrayed as a hard-headed strategist – Matthew describes his view of Coulson as ” a street fighter who could take the battle to Labour and win in a media knife-fight.”
But Cameron comes over as besotted with Coulson. According to Matthew ” Cameron..was awestruck by his communications director, whom he privately described in lyrical language.”
” He treated Coulson as a red top shaman, a source of secret knowledge about the world of tabloids, Essex and kitchen- table politics. The phone hacking story refused to go away but Cameron was determined not to yield to those who urged him to ditch Coulson.”
Matthew later adds – and remember that this written before the trial verdict – that Cameron was determined he must follow him into Downing Street and as a result didn’t want ” to ask too many questions.”
He writes:” Coulson had the talent of the outsider, and exercised a quietly magnetic influence upon his privileged bosses, bringing Billericay to Bullingdon.”
All this makes Cameron’s badly timed apology for appointing him show Cameron up as shallow turncoat. While it may not quite rank as an equivalent of Peter thrice denying Jesus, it says something about how a man who treats Coulson as a Messiah figure to connect with the working class and then distances himself as fast as he can when he is down and out. Particularly when it is clear from Matthew’s account that Coulson more than once offered to resign because of his Murdoch past.
Coulson has had a bad time – his trial and subsequent conviction – has led to a jury hearing about his ” love cheat “affair with Rebekah Brooks , his bullying manner from co accused Royal reporter Clive Goodman, and how he listened to the David Blunkett love tapes before publishing the story.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not sorry for Coulson or his fate but I do think the Prime Minister is being let off far too lightly. Peter Oborne has already exposed flaws in his apology statement, Matthew D’Ancona,a Tory insider himself, to my mind, exposes flaws in Cameron’s own character.