As the former editor of the News of the World turned PR man for David Cameron, Andy Coulson’s appearance before the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee the other day was always likely to be difficult – this is a high-pressure enquiry into the phone hacking scandal.
His performance was a masterstroke, however – a blend of careful honesty and equally careful image management. Coulson came across as forthright and honest – and he looked relaxed in a suit that could easily have graced the pages of GQ. Importantly, he did not battle the MPs he was facing but was carefully compliant.
There’s no doubt that he knows not to make himself the story – he kept his personality in the background and presented the facts as he saw them. It was abundantly clear, from this appearance, that he has been a major influence on the Tory front bench and on David Cameron in particular. Watching him conducting himself told us much about how he is working with the Tories.
He was as impressive as Alastair Campbell used to be in the same role for Tony Blair, although he cuts a very different dash from Campbell. Where Campbell was more of a Nobby Stiles, Coulson comes across as something of a Cardinal Richelieu, albeit a Richelieu who is prepared to admit his mistakes, which is more than can be said for some MPs.
But would he rather be the PR man for a likely future Prime Minister or to have remained in the editor’s chair at the News of the World? He fell on his sword for the sake of the Murdoch empire in 2007 after the phone tapping scandal involving rogue agents, having carefully built a career in journalism. I would imagine that there’s still a sense of loss about that lurking in the carefully polished depths.
At a time when Sunday newspapers are under ever greater pressure to land scoops – whatever the method and consequence – I imagine Coulson’s safe with the Tories for now, especially since he handled himself so effectively under pressure in front of the Commons select committee and given that his media management of the Tories has, on the whole, been equally effective. He certainly proved he’s an asset to David Cameron in front of the select committee and despite calls for his resignation, I would suggest that he’s not likely to leave this job at present.