Day of drama brings scandal a step closer to Cameron's door

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Fifteen months after becoming Prime Minister, David Cameron is discovering what it is like to be in office without having the power to control events. It happens to all premiers and it is incredibly frustrating.

Yesterday's arrest of Rebekah Brooks brings this dramatic saga not only closer to the top of the Murdoch empire, but closer to the door of 10 Downing Street. After Andy Coulson, she is the second person with close links to Mr Cameron to be arrested. To complete the circle, there were reports yesterday that Ms Brooks had urged him to appoint Mr Coulson as the Conservatives' director of communications in 2007, even though he had resigned as News of the World editor over phone hacking.

Inside No 10 there is more sympathy with Mr Coulson, who retains the loyalty and private support of many of those who worked with him, than Ms Brooks. There are suspicions that News International threw Mr Coulson to the wolves in an attempt to save Ms Brooks' skin, which clearly didn't work.

The Prime Minister has sought to distance himself from his two friends in the past week, but cannot rewrite history. He appointed Mr Coulson twice – in opposition and to No 10. His social meetings with Ms Brooks last Christmas were among 26 contacts between him and Rupert Murdoch's executives since the election.

The Prime Minister appears to have been on less close terms with Ms Brooks since Mr Coulson resigned his Downing Street post in January. The list of his meetings with media executives published on Friday shows that he saw Ms Brooks five times between June and December last year, twice at his Chequers country residence.

Although he will probably have seen her at NI events this year, there have been no one-to-one meetings. Perhaps he sensed that Mr Coulson's resignation would not be the end of the storm.

Ms Brooks lives close to Mr Cameron's Oxfordshire constituency home, and they are both among the so-called "Chipping Norton set", which also includes Elisabeth Murdoch, her PR guru husband Matthew Freud, and Jeremy Clarkson.

Some Labour figures hope that Mr Cameron's membership of this rich club will damage him. For most of the public the class war is over, but the connection won't help Mr Cameron's attempts to win over the voters who didn't quite trust him enough in last year's election.

More dangerous is that the Prime Minister may appear in voters' eyes to have some dodgy friends and look just as bad as the Labour lot, part of the old rather than the new politics.

The same thing happened to Tony Blair, although it took longer. By coincidence, another police investigation (into "cash for honours") cast a cloud over his administration. In the end, the police inquiry didn't go anywhere. Hacking will surely be different.

This crisis has understandably shaken the Cameron circle. Some dared to hope the storm had passed their door last week when the Prime Minister announced the judicial inquiry and disclosed his contacts with the media, a welcome burst of transparency. Yesterday they realised the storm is still gathering pace. It could last for years. No one knows where it will end, least of all Mr Cameron.

Comments