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Tuesday, June 24, 2014 

Emptiness, thy name is Coulson.

When you've been writing about one subject for so long, aren't you meant to feel something when finally, beyond any dispute it's confirmed you were right to do so? Even if it's simply something as petty, as paltry as schadenfreude? I don't know.  I just don't feel anything.

Which is probably the exact same emotion Andy Coulson is currently experiencing.  He must have known this was how it was always likely to end.  You can tell lies for years, you can even tell them on behalf of the government, and if we're to take David Cameron seriously then also to the government, but when you start telling them in the law courts there's always a fair chance they will catch up with you.  Coulson's biggest mistake by far was to imagine he could remain Cameron's chief media adviser once his boss had become PM, believing the phone hacking story had once again gone away.  He then compounded the error by having the hubris to give evidence at Tommy Sheridan's perjury trial, denying under oath he had even so much as heard of Glenn Mulcaire, again without apparently considering for a second how his mendacity could come back to haunt both him and Cameron.

He wasn't to know Nick Davies would discover Mulcaire had been tasked with hacking the phone of Milly Dowler, or that the revelation would shake almost the entire establishment, at least for a short while.  By then Coulson had at last realised the net was closing in; as the Graun is reporting, a week before he resigned he was called by Rebekah Brooks to an urgent breakfast meeting, apparently to be told of incriminating emails about to passed over to the police.  Not that his reason for resigning, coming on the same day as Tony Blair's second appearance before the Chilcot inquiry, offered a hint: he just couldn't give "110%" while "events connected to his old job" continued to receive coverage.  This may well have made him the only person in history to resign twice over something he professed to have never known about.

Coulson did of course know about hacking.  He was up to his neck in it, he authorised it and in the end it consumed the News of the World whole.  While the Crown seems to have characteristically bungled the case against Brooks, failing to convince the jury beyond reasonable doubt that she also conspired to intercept voice messages and pervert the course of justice, the evidence against Coulson was just too overwhelming.  Unlike the other senior figures at the paper who had the sense to plead guilty, realising they couldn't deny the story told by the copious notes kept by Glenn Mulcaire, Coulson gambled on the complexity of the case overwhelming the jury.  The moment it became apparent his ploy had failed was when he had to admit in the witness box to listening to the voicemails intercepted from David Blunkett's phone, the same ones Neville Thurlbeck had pleaded guilty over.  All the previous attempts to present himself as an honest, unfairly traduced operator in a world where grey rather than black or white was the dominating colour were ruined in a matter of minutes.

It was always a fantasy, but it was one sections of the press and the Conservative party did their utmost to continue to maintain.  They ignored the employment tribunal ruling in favour of Matt Driscoll, claimed the Guardian was misleading the British public and only when a murdered schoolgirl was found to have been a victim did the tone very temporarily change.  The Augean stables had to be cleaned out.  Once the Dowler moment had passed, the tact altered to crying press freedom risked being permanently curtailed.  It doesn't matter the only newspaper threatened with being closed down recently has been the, err, Guardian, with most of the right-wing press sagely agreeing how irresponsible it had been over the Snowden files, we simply have to believe the likes of David Woodring when they say there's a climate of fear in Fleet Street post-Leveson.

This is why it's so utterly irrelevant to concern ourselves with whether Cameron should have been more careful in choosing his director of communications, demanding to know if Coulson was telling the full truth when he insisted it was all just one rogue reporter.  Had Cameron given even the shortest, most prematurely concluded fuck about phone hacking or indeed ethics at all he would have steered clear not just of Coulson but tabloid journalists in general.  He didn't because the only thing on his mind was following what he and George Osborne saw as the path to power: get in with the Murdochs and their clingers-on, and everything else will be fine.  Build it and they will come.  The allegations against Coulson were a nuisance, but the fear of Murdoch and his papers was such that it kept Labour quiet.  Besides, they were only celebrities.  Who cares about privacy in this day and age anyway?

Listening to Cameron tell us all how desperately sorry he is that he believed Coulson's lies reminds of Father Jack's apology from a certain priest sitcom.  To give Cameron and the Tories credit, they've always presented his mistake in the best possible light.  After all, who doesn't deserve a second chance?  Coulson had never done anything wrong in the first place mind, but still.  Cameron might have been warned multiple times taking Coulson with him into Downing Street was asking for it; he still did it.  How could he not?  He'd made all these rash promises about abolishing Ofcom, keeping the BBC in check and the rest of it.  Should these things not be as easy as thought thanks to the coalition he needed Andy n' Becks close by lest Keith and James get the wrong idea.  And he might have gotten away with it had it not been for the pesky Graun.  We could quite easily be sitting here now with Sky fully under the yoke of News Corporation, Brooks in charge of a triumphalist News International, the Sun even more scathing about Red Ed and his failings to eat bacon sandwiches while looking vaguely human.

The worst could also be yet to come.  Coulson still faces the perjury charge for his evidence at the Sheridan trial, an appearance it seems Cameron must have been intensely relaxed about.  It's one thing to be such a pleb you take the word of a tabloid editor at face value; it's quite another for them to be in your employ when they tell those fibs to the beak.  Should Coulson be found guilty a second time, can he really just deploy the "I was lied to as well" defence again?

Probably.  Looking at tomorrow morning's front pages, it's difficult to see exactly what's changed since July 2011.  Only the Mail goes for objectivity, while the Times' splash could have been set by Murdoch himself.  In fact it probably was.  For all that's altered, there's much that's still the same.  Almost exactly the same system of regulation.  The same biases.  The same changing of the story.  The same emptiness.  Oh, that last one's just me.

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