Coulson's still in Dave's gang – but is he right for Number 10?

The phone-hacking scandal just won't die for Tory communications chief.

In the early days when David Cameron had a comfortable opinion poll lead, he used to boast of his don't-count-your-chickens attitude, saying he hated any talk of "curtain-measuring".

Yet one issue in particular must be nagging at him, and if he was to win the election he'd need to resolve it quickly. Would Andy Coulson, the steely former editor of the News of the World and Cameron's head of communications, join him in Downing Street? Developments last week seem to make that less likely.

Since his appointment in May 2007, Coulson has become integral to Dave's gang and has brought an appropriate degree of tabloid hard-headedness to Cameron's early press team. Coulson offers a street-level, professional counterweight to what can be a slightly distrait team. In short, he knows what real people think. Just the person for the No 10 teamsheet, surely?

Well, yes and no. For Coulson brings baggage. He left the News of the World (owned by Rupert Murdoch's News International) because he was in charge when two of its representatives were sent to jail in early 2007 for illegally intercepting telephone messages. It was unimaginable that a company so badly embarrassed by the episode could have allowed him to continue in the job. Coulson says he knew nothing of the illegal activity. Either way, he would have grounds for feeling sore about the affair, either because he knew nothing but had to pay for it, or because he was the only senior executive (and a Commons committee said it was "inconceivable" that none knew about it) to carry the can.

Whether Murdoch's people felt Coulson, in "doing the decent thing" – as News International press officers asserted with conspicuous vigour – had borne a disproportionate share of the executive blame is not known. In any event, there was a happy symmetry when, soon afterwards, Matthew Freud, Murdoch's son-in-law and a close confidant of (then) Sun editor Rebekah Wade, suggested Coulson for the vacant position of head of Conservative communications. William Hague and George Osborne endorsed the idea, and Cameron, badly in need of a hardened pro, obliged.

Until then, the media baron had been airing his mistrust of Cameron, and some Tories talked bravely of "not needing Murdoch", but Coulson's arrival changed that. Yet it was not the end of the phone-hacking story. Cameron has said everyone deserves a second chance, but Coulson's News International past won't leave him alone. In the autumn, he was grilled in the Commons about it. Then, in November, former sports reporter Matt Driscoll was awarded a record £800,000 for the bullying inflicted on him by Coulson and his team. And in February, Max Clifford was paid around £1m for the same reason, following an agreement with Ms Brooks (formerly Wade), now chief executive of News International.

Can Cameron breathe a sigh of relief that it is all over? Probably not. There remains a strong suspicion that many more people were targeted by the News of the World while Coulson was in charge. This may be unfair, and Coulson may have nothing to fear. But the smell won't go away, and a string of impending legal cases will ensure that News International's lawyers are kept busy. In the past few weeks, a dozen MPs, including three former or current ministers, have instructed solicitors in the belief that private information about them was obtained unlawfully by the paper, and several are due to go public shortly. One sports personality is also thought to have a particularly strong case.

But perhaps most tellingly, the man who sued the News of the World for bullying is back on the scene. Last week Matt Driscoll instructed Manchester-based solicitor Charlotte Harris, who helped secure the hefty payout for Max Clifford, to ask the police if – as he believes – there is evidence from the 2007 case that his phone was hacked during his dispute with the paper. While News International executives have always said their activities involving private investigators are carried out in the public interest, any eavesdropping on Driscoll would undermine that claim.

Again, this may have nothing to do with Coulson, but the ongoing rumble of legal action would surely not be comfortable for a shiny new PM. So Cameron has a choice. Does he allow things to run, as he did with Lord Ashcroft, trusting in the emptiness of his media chief's cupboard? Or does he show his steel, thank Coulson for his hard work and encourage him to set up his own lucrative City consultancy, where he could advertise unrivalled access to the leadership?

Or does last week's report that Coulson has signed an agreement not to reveal the goings-on inside Camerot suggest the Murdoch stable might be planning to welcome him back? Stranger things have happened.

News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
news

As anti-Semitic attacks rise, Grant Feller re-evaluates his identity

Life and Style
food and drink

Savoury patisserie is a thing now

News
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

News
In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
News
people
News
Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Life and Style
fashionThe Secret Angels all take home huge sums - but who earns the most?
Sport
football

Striker ignored Brendan Rodger's request to applaud audience

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission, 1st yr OTE £30-£40k : SThree:...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel your sales role is l...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Account Director / AD

£Competitive + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Director with a ba...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?