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Thursday, 23 September 2010

Dirty Tricks and Politics

I'm bemused by the Coulson saga. It's sunk so low that even the feeble Press Complaints Commission has been goaded into "re-examining" allegations of phone-hacking on Coulson's watch as tabloid editor.

And of course the spinners are on.

Matthew d'Ancona says Coulson is only a target because it's a way for "Cameron's enemies" to damage the Coalition, and Cameron will back his communications chief because he values Coulson's "tabloid street-smarts" and "sharp" intellect. He adds:
"Coulson resigned. Although insisting that he had no direct knowledge of the phone-hacking, he did the right thing in 2007, which was to take responsibility for what had happened on his watch at the News of the World, and to quit. Fair enough. But his antagonists seem to be forging a new and frankly preposterous politico-legal doctrine of executive responsibility: namely, that a man should not only lose the job he holds at the time of the wrongdoing, but all subsequent jobs. On this sinister basis, one strike and you are out – forever."
Ah, but this is the stuff of moral panic, not reasoned argument on the central issue. It suggests the saga turns on the side issue of Coulson's personal plight, rather than who is fit to be the Prime Minister's communications chief in an era of alleged political reform. It casts Coulson as an honourable man (albeit one with "tabloid street-smarts") who risks losing his job twice over the same affair because of some petty playground drama amongst politicians, rather than because his background as a tabloid editor seems at odds with an alleged desire by the Coalition to clean up politics.

If we want governments and MPs to continue wallowing in a culture of rip-offs, leaks and political smear campaigns, then it would seem that Coulson's "tabloid street-smarts" and lack of direct knowledge about the activities of his staff and contractors may come in handy. Even if we do not, I guess there's still an argument (somewhat less convincing) that Coulson's skills and experience will enable him to 'turn gamekeeper' and at least pre-empt dirty tricks, if not help clean up politics altogether. But, in that case, can he be trusted not to do a little 'poaching'?

At any rate, Sir Christopher Meyers makes an excellent point that MPs are the last people on earth who should sit in judgment over journalists' alleged use of dirty tricks. Because, ultimately, they're all in it together.

So, it's really down to the voters, and whether Wavy Dave can trust that Coulson won't deliver the kind of culture that ended up doing for Gordo.
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