So David Cameron has pronounced that Andy Coulson is safe in his job.
Assuming Mr Cameron does the basics of leadership, that means he has satisfied himself that his communications director did nothing improper or illegal, nor condoned, used or benefited from anything improper or illegal, in his time as editor of the News of the World. He has also satisfied himself that nothing is likely to emerge to cast doubt on that judgement. That is a big call to have made.
We have to assume he has asked Coulson some tough questions, and got some convincing answers. If not, he has made a big mistake in coming out so soon, and so forcefully, in support of his right-hand man.
But their comments so far have sought to focus very narrowly on the jailing of former Royal reporter Clive Goodman, over which Mr Coulson resigned but for which he denied any knowledge or responsibility, and on an out of court settlement with footballers’ leader Gordon Taylor of which Coulson also denies knowledge.
I always thought at the time that it was unlikely that Goodman and a private detective who received large sums of money for his illegal activities were the only people in the paper who knew about the Royal tapping. The Guardian story reveals something far more systemic and organised, targeted at all manner of newsworthy people.
Whatever anyone says about Coulson, his colleagues always spoke of him as a highly professional editor and journalist. But as Andrew Neil pointed out rather well last night, good, professional editors know what is happening in their papers. When they don’t know, they ask questions. They ask a lot of questions about where stories come from because that will often indicate the real strength of the story, and alert them to any possible legal problems.
People might just be able to acccept the Goodman incident was a one-off, and that therefore senior executives did not know about it. But if the central allegations in The Guardian are true – and there seems precious little pushing back on them – then it becomes impossible to believe that editors and others were not aware of what was going on. And if they weren’t, they were incompetent and negligent on the job, not qualities associated with Coulson or other Murdoch editors.
The statements from Cameron and Coulson go nowhere near answering the questions they have to answer. To his credit, John Whittingdale, the Tory chair of the relevant select committee, looks like he will want to ask those questions.
There are questions too for the Press Complaints Commission. Do not hold any of your breath in expecting them to be answered. It is a body for the media, by the media, a disgrace to the concept of meaningful self-regulation.
And John Prescott is right to demand that serious questions of the police are answered too. If there is a list of people known to have had their calls intercepted by the News of the World, all the people on that list have a right to know.
So, as I said last night, questions for the press, the cops and for Cameron. Those questions have not gone away. They are only just beginning.