The most interesting question arising from Andy Coulson's resignation is whether it puts the Prime Minister in a better place. Some commentators say it does. One or two have even speculated that David Cameron was happy to see his spin doctor go because he was generating so much unfavourable publicity for No 10.
I doubt he was happy, and I'd say Mr Coulson's departure changes very little. It will have no effect on rampant media speculation that he knew phone hacking was taking place when he was editor of the News of the World – a suggestion he has vehemently denied.
If anything, the Crown Prosecution Service, which is looking at Metropolitan Police files, may feel less impeded if it tries to construct a case against Mr Coulson now that he is no longer one of the most important figures in the coalition.
If Mr Coulson did end up in court, and were to be convicted, the uproar against Mr Cameron would know no bounds. He would be vilified for having nurtured a criminal at the heart of government. His judgement would be seriously impugned. If, on the other hand, no charges are ever brought against the spin doctor – not an unlikely outcome, I should have thought – Mr Coulson will cease to be a potentially lethal threat to the Prime Minister.
Yet Mr Cameron would still by no means be out of the woods since there is the controversial matter of Rupert Murdoch's bid for the 61 per cent of BSkyB that he does not already own.
Readers may be aware that I don't believe that the future of Western civilisation hangs on this deal, but it can't be denied that with every passing day it becomes a more toxic issue. Some have suggested Mr Murdoch brought pressure on the spin doctor to resign, in the belief that his removal would ease the passage of the bid. If so, he may have miscalculated.
So powerful is the tide against the bid, and so encompassing – ranging from The Guardian to the BBC to the Telegraph Media Group to the Daily Mail – that it is increasingly hard to see how Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, can fail to block it. Friends and foes alike will be outraged if he doesn't. All Mr Cameron's political interests would seem to lie in making sure Mr Murdoch does not get his way.
And yet, of course, the media mogul – who is in London this week, and will presumably meet the Prime Minister – is looking towards his payday. He never much liked young Cameron, but was persuaded by his son James and Rebekah Brooks that he was the coming man, and could see with his own eyes the disintegration of New Labour under Gordon Brown – a leader he had genuinely admired. In switching his support to the Tories at the end of September 2009, he will have expected a favour to be returned. Can Mr Cameron risk disappointing him?
In the circumstances, the answer is probably "Yes". The Prime Minister is boxed in. Either accepting or rejecting the bid would have uncomfortable consequences for him. I don't suggest that telling Mr Murdoch he can't deliver this time would lead the media mogul to swing the power of the The Sun behind Labour, but it would be an unusual experience for the tycoon to be rebuffed by a man who so assiduously paid court to him.
Looking back, it is clear that in this spirited courtship Mr Cameron went further than he should have, or needed to. The appointment of Mr Coulson, who as a former senior Murdoch executive had many contacts within the empire, was partly intended to smooth the path to the great man's table.
The Tory leader also befriended Rebekah Brooks – then editor of The Sun, later chief executive of News International, the company that controls Mr Murdoch's British newspapers. And he became very chummy with the PR king Matthew Freud, Rupert's son-in-law.
The moment of crowning glorycame in August 2008, when Mr Freud flew Mr Cameron to the Mediterranean in his private jet, first to have drinks on Mr Murdoch's yacht, and then dinner on his own. A mere eight months previously the Tory leader had been virtually snubbed by Mr Murdoch at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The joke is that when The Sun began to root madly for Mr Cameron it did not deliver him the electoral victory he craved. Meanwhile the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph were less enthusiastically supportive than he might have hoped. If he made a Faustian pact with Rupert Murdoch, Mr Cameron did not get much of a bargain. What he did not foresee was that, after ditching New Labour, Mr Murdoch would again become a lightning rod for so many swirling hatreds.
Mr Coulson's resignation is only the end of chapter one. If David Cameron is going to navigate himself to theend of this saga, he must hope hisformer spin doctor does not end up in a court or law, and must steel himself to let down the most powerful media proprietor in the world. That isn'tgoing to be easy..
Let criminal justice take its course
After Chris Jefferies was arrested for the murder of Jo Yeates the media, often led by the BBC, tried and convicted him. Mr Jefferies was presented as a deviant, though it seems he was merely an eccentric English teacher. "Weird, Posh, Lewd, Creepy" was The Sun's verdict. Will it now apologise?
I wonder whether we will see a repeat performance following the arrest and charging of Dutch architectural engineer Vincent Tabak. Yesterday's Mail on Sunday carried precise details of his alleged movements on the morning after the murder took place. I have no idea whether he is guilty, but I hope that Mr Tabak is not tried before his trial begins.Reuse content