Sunday, 17 July 2011

David Cameron faces media storm

All my hopes of a quiet Sunday at home were shattered after first Rebekah Brooks was arrested and then the Commissioner of Metropolitian Police resigned. A classic media storm quickly developed with one reporter suggesting to me that 'the dominoes are falling' and David Cameron himself might be in danger.

Apparently, Dave did not hear of the news of the Commissoner's resignation until he was 1 hour 10 mins. into his flight to South Africa when he had a satellite phone conversation with Home Secretary Theresa May.

There is no doubt that David Cameron has made errors of judgment in relation to Andy Coulson, not least in failing to heed advice that he was given, although some of that advice appears not to have reached him. David Cameron also said last week in the House of Commons that some of the assurances he was given by Andy Coulson may not have been well founded.

Ed Miliband has made good use of the situation and has been able to take his L-plates off and for once look authoritative. Tom Montgomerie suggests mischievously in The Times today that this is bad news for Labour as he is now well entrenched. His poll numbers have certainly not improved all that much (yet) but he now may look less like the head boy asked at short notice to make a speech.

Yvette Cooper has probably been an even more effective performer and has insisted that David Cameron has questions to answer. As it so happens, the Prime Minister is in South Africa and will not return until after Parliament goes into recess (he is about to give a press conference), although some Labour MPs are calling for the House of Commons to be recalled. David Cameron said in his press conference this morning that it would be appropriate for the House to be recalled on Wednesday for a statement and questions.

What is really serious about this crisis is that it further erodes trust in institutions, not just the media, but even more important the Metropolitan Police. The Met has had problems in the past with corruption and institutionalized racism and these have been tackled to good effect. Crime in London has been falling. However, it is evident that some members of the force have had a closer relationship with the media than is desirable.

It is now becoming apparent that the Mayor of London had lost confidence in the Commissioner and in effect he went before he was pushed (Theresa May would have probably implied that he should go in the Commons statement scheduled for todday). Bozza and Dave had a number of conversations over the matter over the weekend which must have been interesting given their political rivalry.

The Liberal Democrats have come out of this quite well because they were not having informal meetings with News International but in part this because they were not regarded as serious players before the last election. Nevertheless, Nick Clegg has managed to sound sensible and authoritative.

It should be remembered that there is a serious crisis in the eurozone and a potential debt default in the US, either of which could trigger a second recessionary wave at a time when governments have no shots left in their locker. Voters will make their decision at the next election in terms of the economy and public services, not the phone hacking scandal.

Nevertheless, David Cameron's image has been dented. He is good at the big picture but the flip side of that is that he does not always master crucial details and up to now has been able to breeze through on the basis of self-confidence. Clearly he now faces a more difficult phase as this story will rumble on for months and years.

But George Osborne is not going to be moving into No.10.

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