There are now three men left standing at the core of the Hackgate scandal – not counting John Yates, who is more peripheral: James Murdoch, David Cameron, and Rupert Murdoch. The junior Murdoch is a dead man walking, and his Dad will fall to the shareholder sword in the end. So the question all thinking people should now ask is, “Why on earth would David Cameron escape with little more than a big question-mark over his judgement?”
Although this is a minority viewpoint, I think that David Cameron’s downfall was sealed the day Andy Coulson was arrested. Mr Coulson has a young family at home and is, I understand, happily married. At his lifestage, the last thing he wants is to be banged up for the next decade. Sooner rather than later, he is going to ‘turn Queen’s', as the old lags used to say.
This will immediately put Cameron in a spot, as I suspect he is lying about having asked Coulson for hacking reassurance. Look back over the PM’s statements, and you will note (as a media chum pointed out to me yesterday) that he has never received these assurances with witnesses present. It’s a clever lie if it is one, because it’s not the sort of thing you would say to an employee with others present. I just doubt that any such conversation ever took place.
The Met’s new teams of investigators may choose not to press the point – or indeed others they come across. But even so, yesterday’s resignations mean any slim chance of escape has now disappeared for Dave. There are two reasons for this. First, The Slog has learned from police sources that Sir John Stephenson allegedly resigned in disgust at what he now knows Mr Cameron has been up to. He made this abundantly clear with his heavy swipe at the Tory leader’s failure to be properly nailed on the issue of hiring an obvious crook as his Head of Communications. Sir John doesn’t believe the reassurances guff either: he may even believe that Cameron hired the bloke knowingly as (a) a useful operator and (b) a good line into Murdoch.
Second, Rebekah Brooks. I have no contacts into this lady, but I’d imagine she is bitter about the speed with which David Cameron assumed her guilt after the Dowler-hacking revelations. She is just the sort of amoral, not very bright bully who could quickly convince herself that she’d been hard done by – “after all I did for him” and so forth. Intention to harm is nothing without ammunition, but Ms Brooks has plenty of that. The Tooting Norton ring gets up to all sorts of nonsense when nobody’s looking, and there can be little doubt that the Prime Minister indulged in some of it. Last week, Liz Murdoch made it clear to friends that Brooks is a loose cannon for whom she now has no time. Rebekah won’t like that either: and Liz plus hubby Matthew Freud are also renowned for alleged nasal-gazing. To make the infighting worse, the Digger isn’t keen on his son-in-law’s occasional indiscretions, and frequent misbehaviour with chocolate gateau.
In short, the possibility of a Chipping Norton feeding fenzy is very high indeed. There’s the faint possibility that Coulson may clam up and ‘do his bird’. There is zero possibility of Rebekah Brooks doing that.
Some months back, I wrote a widely read post accusing David Cameron of listening to the wrong opinions. I still think this is the case: the man is not so much clubbable as intensely cliquey – and he has always liked the idea of it being Dave’s clique. This has only deepened Cameron’s belief in his invulnerability: a sense of superiority given to him by a privileged upbringing and education anyway. I think this tends to make him accident-prone: and more so since his ‘voice of the People’ Coulson resigned on the principle of not knowing anything.
But even the most politically careful animal is going to struggle in the weeks and months ahead. The summer recess, I keep hearing, will calm it all down. That is palpable bollocks: if anything, it’ll make it much easier for the Met’s missiles to get on with their job. Already this morning, it looks like the recess will be postponed. Part of me will be surprised if it happens at all above a certain level of seniority. Make no mistake: there’s no way the flood of revelations will dry up.
There is, for example, the Gordon Brown dossier. For once, I don’t think Brown is an empty vessel on the subject of Newscorp. Rumour has it that he and Lord Compleat Barsteward have chatted at some length about the subject. Ed Balls too is as much a member of the Brownshirts as ever: it’s been forgotten in the headlong rush of career suicides, but Balls also has the Met on the case of where his secret papers went…and how they got there. There are even some who think Brown may have something of a smoking gun in relation to when his phone was hacked….and why the Conservative Shadow Cabinet seemed to be so well informed about his state of health.
Then there is the role of Andy Hayman, a former senior security cop thought to have been rather closer to Coulson than the ‘once had cup of tea with him’ Cameron’s former Number 10 adviser lied about to the Court at Tommy Sheridan’s trial. Nobody has, as yet, explained how the News of the World obtained the mobile phone number of an anti-IRA security operative in 2006 – but that they did is no longer in doubt. What other secret numbers might have changed hands in that period?
Next, although most other observers are sort of ignoring it, there is without question a Royal Family link to Hackgate that goes well beyond Mulcaire hacking Prince William’s phone. So toxic is this link, in fact, that it seems very possible a senior Newscorper did some kind of deal with Royal solicitors Harbottle & Lewis to give a sanitising opinion on the 300 Royal-related emails known to still exist. As The Slog revealed exclusively yesterday, Rupert Murdoch is frantic at the thought of the reason for this subterfuge getting out…. but other more reliable opinion states categorically that the emails are dynamite – and have appalling Royal security ramifications.
How does this affect Cameron’s chances? Nobody can be certain about that as yet. But this much I do know: the Queen is aware of at least some of the details of this odd legal sequence of events. A major quality newspaper was recently warned off running a story about the Royal dimension – and now regrets spiking it. I understand the story alleges very clear advice given to the Prime Minister about the dangers of his association with Newscorp. Advice which, if its exact nature became public, would do him irreparable damage.
Then we must not forget the political sphere. The important point to remember here is that a bizarre suspension of oil and water has been on Camerlot and the Coalition’s back since May 2010. The Daily Telegraph (worked from behind by the Barclay Brothers, and from the front by the Mail Boat People) has tried to nobble every LibDem in the Cabinet at one time or another. The Guardian is bitterly anti-Cameron, who shall of course never be forgiven for stealing away the pure-white virgin Nick Clegg whom they supported openly in the Election. The Mirror goes, as always, with Labour and the Unions – the latter of whom have made it their life’s work to destroy Tory education, NHS and cost-cutting reform programmes, aided and abetted by incompetent ministers and interfering LibDems desperate for some profile.
And that’s just the away games. On home ground, the Tebbitt-led anti-EU Lords have made Camerlot’s life a misery. The Tory Right in the Commons are perpetually wound up by the Dacre Mail, normally a newspaper which can be relied upon to run hourly stories about the bestial and/or satanic tendencies of Trade Union leaders. And last but by all means most, the euro-sceptic wing of the Parliamentary and grassroots local Conservative Party grows in strength with every day that dawns to reveal yet another EU cock-up, and another spineless Camerlot obeisance to all things Brussels.
Within this latter crew sits the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, suddenly handed the scandal of the century among his own police force, and thus able to stride towards the crease in The State vs Newscorp. BoJo’s seat is in the wrong House at the moment – and to drop out now as the Mayoral re-election candidate would damn him forever in the eyes of loyal Tories. But he has the sort of fire in his belly to attract the votes of furious Middle England; and above all, he is consumed with the ambition to be Prime Minister sooner rather than later.
People ask me when I put this point of view about Cameron’s chances, “Yes – but who would replace him?” However, the supposition behind this question is that the Conservative Party will, by the time his demise comes to pass, be in control of its own destiny. Today, the PM has jetted off to southern Africa with Bob Diamond (another nice man) and some business bigwigs. He has shaved the trip down to two days in order to be back within 72 hours, but here too his travelling companion is another example of the unwise hobnobbing in which Cameron indulges. But his eagerness to return betrays his unease.
In Europe too, Cameron has nailed his colours to the ‘no more UK eurozone bailouts’ mast. The other undeniable reason why the summer recess has little chance of happening is the imminent meltdown of the eurozone itself, let alone who contributes to it. The speed with which first Greece and then another State hits trouble (probably Italy) will take most laymen by surprise, but the crisis is inevitable. Distracted as we are by the Murdoch slime now leaking out in all directions, the game changer must be Europe’s collapse, the UK economy’s relapse, and the Trade Union chaos that will accompany those events.
In circumstances like those, the Conservative hierarchy remains what it has always been: utterly ruthless. There are already mutterings further down the food chain that there is no way a Cameron-led Conservative Party could now win any election that might follow the dissolution of the Coalition. There are even a few warm vibes coming back from Ed Miliband’s frequent fishing trips among the Cleggies.
The next Election (and it is coming sooner than most people think) will present the electorate with a much clearer choice between those presented as fluffy turncoats on the one hand, and tough realists on the other. Given the state of the world by then, my instinct is that the tough realists would walk it. But I very much doubt if David Cameron will be wanted on voyage.