The phone hacking jury will only be about an hour into their continued deliberations when Ed Miliband stands up at Prime Minister’s Questions today, but the Labour leader does seem determined to raise the question of David Cameron’s judgement in hiring Andy Coulson all the same. Harriet Harman did the Labour late shift yesterday on Newsnight in which she pointed out that the Conservative leader ignored warnings about Coulson.
Labour’s thesis is that Cameron hired Coulson in spite of those warnings because he was desperate to get closer to the Murdoch empire. The party is certainly right that Cameron was desperate: the Conservatives were not particularly worth joining in 2007 and so there would not have been an endless queue of former senior tabloid journalists desperate to join the team. Cameron is also a great believer in his gut instinct on people: he believes his convictions about those he meets are right, and he felt a good connection with Coulson. Coulson also had what Cameron needed: not access to the Murdoch empire but an ability to talk to C2 voters, whether or not they were Sun readers. He sharpened up the Conservative brand and was instrumental in saving them from yet another existential crisis.
All politicians need more advice on talking to C2s, and all politicians continue to desire good ties with the Murdoch empire. Why else would Miliband have posed with the Sun front page (and it is fortunate for him that the jury returned its verdicts two weeks after that image was published, rather than last week when people were still very angry about it)?
But Cameron made a poor judgement: his gut was wrong, and he admitted that yesterday, while making quite clear that Coulson really did do an excellent job for him. The question is whether he is weakened by this poor judgement for the long-term. His apology yesterday suggested both that he felt by speaking quickly he could keep a lid on this situation and that he suspects his party has factored in the hacking trial verdict as one of those things to endure, much like the European elections. My hunch is that it won’t change relations in the Conservative party, even though rebels once named this verdict as a point of maximum danger for Cameron. Those who dislike the Prime Minister already think he has terrible judgement, but are waiting to exact their own judgement on him until after the general election. As for whether Labour can make this electorally damaging for the Conservative party depends on whether the Miliband machine is running smoothly or whether it still has gremlins in the tank, as it did when the Labour leader managed to upset almost everyone by posing with the Sun and then apologising for doing so. The last few weeks have proven that quite a few people at the top of politics really shouldn’t trust their guts so much.