Bloodless, deadpan Coulson testimony
Have been watching the first hour or so of Andy Coulson‘s testimony at Leveson inquiry and I have to tell you it is not a News of the World sizzler. It’s all a bit bloodless, deadpan and clipped. Those in No. 10 watching will be mightily relieved though not completely surprised given Mr Coulson’s conduct since he left no. 10.
People often think that we lobby correspondents used to see Andy Coulson every day when he ran David Cameron‘s media operation in No. 10. That couldn’t be further from the truth. He deputed a civil servant to meet the lobby and he tightly rationed his interaction with most political editors – certainly this one, but even some in Tory-supporting papers I’ve known. He didn’t mind picking up the phone to newspaper editors (always a good way to put the frighteners on a political reporter).
When you did speak to him in that job it tended to be a one-way traffic – all the other way. He told you nothing – diddly-squat, nowt – about what was going on. He sought intelligence, gossip about what you knew from Westminster. And you came away with a very empty feeling in your notebook.
The Leveson inquiry QC has been asking Andy Coulson (very politely) if he was hired by David Cameron in opposition to help the Tories get the support of The Sun and help them get closer to Rebekah Brooks. Andy Coulson says that wasn’t what he thought was going on. David Cameron had his own connections with Rebekah Brooks.
There were some moments where Andy Coulson’s testimony seemed a little internally inconsistent. When he goes to see George Osborne about the communications chief job in May 2007 he says: “I went into it with a degree of reluctance. I wasn’t thinking about politics at all.”
He then says that he was already contemplating how there should be leaders debates on TV in run up to the general election, sounding a bit like someone who had given the matter a decent amount of thought (albeit coming up with an idea some Tories think helped to extinguish David Cameron’s chances of winning outright). He says that once he got the job, he “put a lot of work” into trying to get the endorsements of almost all the national newspapers. But says he “doesn’t buy into the theory” that they have a big influence on how people vote.
Mr Coulson has said there was “no grand conspiracy” linking News International power with trade-offs and that he never saw anything he thought was “inappropriate” in the relationships.
Did David Cameron ever tell him before he left No. 10 in January 2011 that he felt, as he would say in July 2011, that things had got too cosy between politicians and the press? He couldn’t recall such a thing being said but claimed that under his period at No. 10 the stables were already being cleared out with a requirement for special advisers to reveal who they’d met from the media.
A few nuggets in the second tranche of questions to Andy Coulson, but nothing startlingly new. He’s confirmed the Independent on Sunday story that he owned News Corp shares while working at No. 10 – he says this was a mistake. He also points out that no-one asked him whether he held such shares when he took up the job in No. 10.
That lapse comes on top of the weird matter of Mr Coulson’s light touch vetting. He confirms the longstanding reports that he had a lower than usual vetting clearance which meant he wouldn’t have been asked a whole load of questions about life at the News of the World. Andy Coulson says that though David Cameron asked him when he came to work for the Tories in 2007 whether he knew anything about phone hacking (or the Clive Goodman affair as the QC calls it to avoid treading on police toes) he didn’t ask the question again when The Guardian printed more allegations in 2009.
Talking of the Guardian, I wonder if there will now be an additional inquiry there as Andy Coulson’s witness statement claims that “the Guardian suggested to me that their support (for the Tories in the 2010 election) was possible”?
Andy Coulson has agreed with David Cameron that the relationship between politicians and the newspapers “got too cosy” and he repeated David Cameron’s argument that if there was a grand bargain with Murdoch he (David Cameron) wouldn’t have appointed Vince Cable as Business Secretary.
At one point, Andy Coulson said that when he was working for the coalition he “didn’t have a regular line of communication” with James Murdoch. A good question at this point might’ve been: so who did? To which some think the right answer would be: George Osborne.
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