Andrew Grice: Relations between the PM's two closest aides 'go from bad to worse'

Share
Related Topics

Relations between David Cameron's two closest aides are said to have reached a new low as they battle for the Prime Minister's ear and one of them fights to keep his Downing Street post.

Andy Coulson, the director of communications at No 10, is under a cloud because of the allegations over the hacking of celebrities' telephones, which forced him to resign as editor of the News of the World in 2007. He retains the support of Mr Cameron and the Chancellor George Osborne as well as his own ultra-loyal band of press officers, who insist that, despite an endless stream of revelations about the affair, no evidence has emerged that he knew about phone hacking by his reporters.

Whispering in Mr Cameron's left ear is Mr Coulson's rival Steve Hilton, the Prime Minister's director of strategy. His allies wonder whether Mr Coulson should quit to limit the damage the hacking controversy is causing the Government. "It is making it difficult for the No 10 machine to function properly," one claimed.

Mr Coulson and Mr Hilton are described by colleagues as "chalk and cheese". Mr Coulson is the "Essex boy" who started as a local newspaper reporter in Basildon before becoming a show-business reporter on The Sun, a sharp-suited strategist who frets about the next day's headlines, especially in the Daily Mail and The Sun.

Mr Hilton raises eyebrows among Downing Street civil servants by wandering around in his socks. He is "California man" who spent six months in the state before last year's election, while his wife Rachel Whetstone worked there for Google. He epitomises Google's open, liberal values and wants the power of the internet to revolutionise government, while Mr Coulson retains his close links with Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which is building a paywall for its newspapers' websites.

Mr Hilton tells Mr Cameron to worry less about tomorrow's headlines and focus on his long-term vision. He argues that the Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke's "rehabilitation revolution" in prisons will work by 2015, while Mr Coulson worries about tabloid headlines on "soft" sentences and being outflanked by Labour on law and order.

As a liberal Conservative before it was in fashion, Mr Hilton is at ease with the Coalition and is less of a tribal Tory than Mr Coulson. Mr Hilton is the architect of the "big society" and a passionate advocate of devolving power to the lowest possible level. He supports initiatives such as the "happiness index", "nudging" people into changing their behaviour and "responsibility deals" to encourage business to have a social conscience. Allies of Mr Coulson believe that agenda to be too vague, saying the "big society" failed to capture the imagination at last year's election. Friends of Mr Hilton reply to that by blaming the Tories' failure to win an overall majority on the ill-fated decision to agree to Britain's first televised election debates. And whose call was that? Mr Coulson's.

Admirers of Mr Coulson query Mr Hilton's judgment, claiming he goes "through the back door" to re-open decisions by appealing directly to Mr Cameron.

One source, referring to the allegations against the News of the World, said: "Steve and Andy have never been close. Relations have gone from bad to worse because of recent events."

Friends of both men dismiss as a caricature the idea that the battle between them is about rival egos. They insist that Mr Cameron likes to get views from different standpoints before making up his mind.

Insiders admit that there is a debate about Mr Coulson's future at Downing Street which has intensified since last week's announcement that the Crown Prosecution Service is to review all evidence in the phone-hacking case.

But Mr Coulson is resilient and some friends believe he will stay the course until the 2015 election.

Despite that, rumours swirl around Westminster and Whitehall that Mr Coulson might depart this spring, insisting that he always intended to serve only a year in government. The trouble is that people would assume he was going because of the phone-hacking row – so he may be at Mr Cameron's side for a while yet.



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home