I said before the election campaign that I thought the Andy Coulson/phonehack saga might explode during it, but such was the media desire for David Cameron to be given a quiet life that despite the odd flicker, it never really happened.
It may well be, as News International seem to think, that The New York Times investigation which has breathed fresh life into this is all born of rivalry with Rupert Murdoch, who now owns The Wall Street Journal, something of a NYT rival. But even so, it says something about the state of the UK media that it has taken an American paper to dig around some fairly obvious questions which most British newspapers, not just Murdoch’s, would appear to want to bury.
The Coulson involvement – he was editor of the News of the World at the time all this phone-hacking went on, remember, and is now David Cameron’s communications director – is just one aspect of this story and, given the questioning of his denials of any knowledge of criminal activity, an important one. But the media approach more generally is also an important element of this. Apart from the Guardian and to some extent the Financial Times, ever since Coulson joined Cameron’s team, there has been something of a ‘don’t touch with a bargepole’ feel to this. Partly, this may just be media friends looking after each other, but then again it could be that other newspapers have been benefiting from the same kind of thing that has landed colleagues in jail.
And then there is the role of the police, and the questions that arise from that, questions which John Prescott seems pretty resolute about getting answered. When you recall the zeal with which the Met Police went into the so-called ‘cash for honours’ probe, based on little more than a call for inquiry by a Scottish Nationalist MP, and compare that with the zeal with which they seem to have wanted this one shut down, there does seem to be something odd about their stance. If politicians – or indeed anyone – were the victims of illegal activity, they have the right to know and the right for it to be investigated.
It leaves one wondering whether, just as newspapers don’t want their practices looked at too closely, so the police are worried about too much light being shed on their relationships with newspapers.
In any event, even with most of the media frankly just willing this one away, there are too many questions flowing from it now – for Downing Street, for News International, for the press more generally, and for the police.