Fresh from his latest mistimed visit to Africa, the Prime Minister yesterday tried to answer the myriad questions that had exploded on to the political agenda in his absence. He dealt with the police by elaborating on the measures announced by the Home Secretary. He dealt with the media by announcing a broadening of Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry beyond newspapers. The Murdochs' withdrawal of the bid for BSkyB partially drew the sting of questions relating to contacts he might or might not have had with News Corp on the subject. But on the killer question – the recruitment as his media adviser of Andy Coulson – even the Murdoch tactics of apology were not, and could not be, enough.
Not that Mr Cameron truly apologised. In a disturbingly Blairite non-apology, the Prime Minister said "sorry" for the furore, while reserving the right to apologise for the actual appointment, if and when Mr Coulson was shown to have lied. He also admitted that, with hindsight, "I would not have offered him the job and I expect that he would not have taken it". The trouble is that he did offer him the job, and Mr Coulson did take it. And however well Mr Coulson executed his duties at No 10, it is what happened when he edited the News of the World that will define him – and the quality of Mr Cameron's judgement.
Andy Coulson is destined to cast a shadow over the rest of Mr Cameron's term in office. The wheels of justice, as the deliberations of inquiries, turn exceedingly slowly. Even if Mr Coulson is never charged with a crime, the Leveson inquiry and the police investigations guarantee that his name will return time and again to the headlines, and the Prime Minister can do nothing to wrestle himself free. His preoccupation with public relations helped to make Mr Cameron who he is; from now on, it will burden, if not break, his premiership.