Why hacking taint is unlikely to stick to Cameron
26 June 2014 -
Outcome of costly court case will only confirm the general public’s political leanings, rather than have a dramatic effect on the prime minister’s prospects
A seven-year saga that started with the trial and conviction of a News of the World royal editor, saw a series of celebrities give evidence in a public enquiry and led to the closure of a tabloid institution has finally led to the conviction of Andy Coulson on phone-hacking charges. But while the jury’s decision draws a line under the case and another career, will it carry on piling damage on David Cameron, who appointed Coulson as his communications chief amid accusations about his conduct?
Labour’s attack lines are drawn. Leader Ed Miliband said the government had been “tainted” by the appointment of Mr Coulson: “I think David Cameron has very, very serious questions to answer, because we now know he brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street.” The prime minister immediately offered a full and frank apology for his decision to appoint Coulson – but will that be enough to prevent him being associated forever with poor judgement and an embarrassing scandal in the British media?
Newspaper editors and journalists – furious with the way in which their profession has been brought into disrepute – have devoted acres of coverage to Coulson and the hacking crisis. But outside of Westminster and Fleet Street, how many people feel they have a stake in the unfolding events, and how many will remember that Andy Coulson was in Downing Street four years ago? How much clout does the traditional media still have to tell the population at large what is and isn’t an important issue, when people can choose their own priorities and search out news that speaks directly to them through social media?
The answer seems to be “not much” if the list of BBC online’s most popular stories is any indication, which shows that (at the time of writing) more people are looking into whether the UK will need to be renamed in the event of Scottish Independence than poring over the hacking scandal. The media landscape has changed dramatically in the seven years that the press has been tracking the hacking.
The scandal has further undermined the position of journalism, so it sits comfortably alongside politics and high finance as a much-maligned calling. But aside from a little uncomfortable questioning, the damage for Cameron in the eyes of the public at large will most likely be relatively slight. People who wouldn’t vote Conservative in any case have another reason to affirm their choice, but those on the opposite side are every bit as unlikely to change their minds as when the story broke in 2011.
While the jury may have sent down Andy Coulson this week and let off Rebekah Brooks, the public’s verdict on the prime minister’s judgement was reached some time ago.
Jon Bennett is Managing Director of corporate communications consultancy Linstock Communications
Image of No 10 Downing Street courtesy of pcruciatti / Shutterstock
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