The Prime Minister and the Spin Doctor: Andy Coulson Appears Before Leveson Inquiry

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Andrew Winning / Reuters

Andy Coulson, a former "News of the World" editor and former spokesman for Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, leaves after testifying at the High Court in London on May 10, 2012

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has already admitted that he, along with many politicians across parties, has gotten far too close to the press. It’s an honest statement but, unfortunately for his credibility, it doesn’t seem that it’s been well received. The latest YouGov/Sun approval polls have Cameron’s Conservative Party at 30%, while the opposing Labour Party is sitting at 44%.

It looks like things are going to get worse for Cameron. On Thursday, the former News of the World editor and, more recently, former Cameron spin doctor Andy Coulson appeared before the media inquiry overseen by Lord Justice Brian Leveson. His appearance marked the latest in a string of revelations about the Prime Minister, the Tories and their relationships with newspaper editors and executives at the Rupert Murdoch–owned News International.

Coulson, who resigned from his position with Cameron in January 2011 amid the phone-hacking scandal, was unable to speak specifically about hacking at News of the World because of ongoing police investigations (he has been released on bail after being arrested in July). However, the presiding lawyer Robert Jay grilled him on the interconnecting relationships between the political parties, the press and News International executives.

While he maintained that there was no “grand conspiracy” between politicians and Murdoch, Coulson said he had retained shares in News International while working for Cameron (a fact that, he admitted, could be viewed as a conflict of interest, though he maintained that no one questioned him further at the time). He also confirmed Murdoch’s earlier claim that the mogul often visited Downing Street via the “back door.”

The Conservatives are surely tense about the turn the inquiry has taken. On Wednesday, before Coulson had even taken the stand, the Guardian revealed that someone from Cameron’s camp had admitted that, as a director of communications, Coulson was likely to have had high-level meetings on matters such as “Afghanistan, counterterrorism and U.K. military matters,” despite only having low-level security clearance. At the inquiry, Coulson admitted to the possibility that he’d viewed documents he hadn’t had security clearance for.

Astonishingly, the day’s revelations weren’t as damning as they have recently been. Previous testimony from the likes of James Murdoch and Rupert Murdoch have given the opposing Labour Party plenty of ammunition to chip away at the Prime Minister and his party’s credibility. Among the revelations, the most shocking has been the alleged coziness between a News International lobbyist in charge of securing the lucrative British Sky Broadcasting corporation and the Tory Culture Minister in charge of assessing the deal. In contrast, Coulson’s testimony largely seemed to retread old territory — albeit, rocky terrain for Cameron — that the boundaries between press and politicians were uncomfortably blurred. However, the week’s not over and the inquiry has Cameron’s longtime friend and former News International executive, Rebekah Brooks, lined up for Friday. While it’s possible that her testimony might not shed further negative light on the Prime Minister, it’s also just as likely that for the many who have already turned on Cameron, it won’t matter either way.

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