Gone was the Flashman stare and the threatening, thin lipped grimace. David Cameron looked a troubled man at PMQ’s this week – and well he might. Next week could see him sitting on the back benches. If only someone had whispered in his ear “the cover-up is worse than the crime”, something Richard Nixon discovered to his cost.
It’s very easy to have 20:20 hindsight, but by not getting shot of Coulson at the first sign of bother, he made a fatal mistake. He also demonstrated an alarming lack of common sense and leadership in dealing with what was essentially a very simple ‘people’ problem, and showed that he doesn’t possess the essential quality required to be a successful political leader: ruthlessness. No leader, certainly no ambitious political leader worth his salt, would ever have entertained giving Andy Coulson a ‘second chance’ – or giving him a job in the first place.
Cameron’s lack of decisiveness has landed him in a hole. It’s a very deep one, he’s been in it for weeks already, and no one can get him out of it. Instead of being a spectator watching events unfold, he’s a participant, and a very nervous one at that.
You can be certain that the one person who won’t be relishing Rupert Murdoch’s appearance in front of the House of Commons select committee on Tuesday, is David Cameron. What will Murdoch say? What Murdoch says, or doesn’t say, may determine whether David Cameron is still Prime Minister on Wednesday.
More worrying for him is what Rebekah Brooks might reveal. Having been trashed publicly by Cameron, she may, like the woman scorned, take her revenge. And then, lurking in the shadows, is Andy Coulson, the man ‘who was a friend and is still a friend’, to quote David Cameron last week. He really does have Cameron by the balls. He knows what they discussed about phone hacking, when they discussed it, and exactly what he told David Cameron about what was going on at the News of the World.
Coulson worked closely with Cameron for four years. As Director of Communications he and Cameron were practically joined at the hip. There is absolutely no way that Cameron had no idea about the extent of the hacking scandal – perhaps not about the Dowlers – but he must have had a pretty good idea about much of the detail, and the enormity of the situation, very early on. That being the case, there must have been another influence either reassuring him or threatening him – and no prizes for guessing who that might have been.
Has Cameron been hung out to dry or is he the victim of his own naivety and lack of experience? It’s difficult to say, but what is certain is that the truth about what he knew and when he knew is yet to be revealed. When (or if) it is, it will probably sink him.