The Coulson affair could be bad for us all

MPs and the Met mixed together make a toxic brew. Add the media and it becomes explosive. And this early in a new government’s life too.   The Damian Green affair, Cash for honours, and now Hackgate require nerves of steel and a very tight lip from the likes of Yates of the Yard. If like the Guardian you find it incredible that Andy Coulson really knew nothing, Yates is being evasive. (See the Sparrow blog’s critique of his Today interview). But if  you are agnostic, you can put much of the furore down to journalists’ refusal to apply the standrds they demand from others to themselves. Both professions have their constraints over discussing evidence which clash with MPs’ amour propre, already badly bruised when you throw in the expenses scandal.

I marvel how my old trade can have it both ways. They truffle around gloriously for weaknesses in others. Yet on this one, it’s the journalists who could wrap up the whole controversy in an instant. The New York Times refuses to release the info from their unnamed sources. How rare for the lion king of the US media to use them at all. Why did they? For the same reason that Yates pleads lack of evidence. Because journalist sources refuse to sing on the record, except the measly one who was quoted.

Short of a change of culture, I don’t see how Andy Coulson’s assassination by innuendo is going to work. The real result may be to place Cameron/ Coulson’s relationship with the media only four months into government on the same footing as Blair/ Campbell’s by 2003. Dire.  And the Met’s relationship with MPs, almost as bad. A early victory for the coalition’s enemies? Probably, but it  could have unwelcome unintended consequences  for all, further down the road.


Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London