The events of the last 72 hours have been truly remarkable. The exposure of a corrupt culture at the heart of the British media; the perverse and systematic intrusion by Fleet Street into the lives of people affected by tragedy; the closure of the world’s biggest selling English-language newspaper; and the arrest of the Prime Minister’s right hand man for the past five years. All are astounding developments in and of themselves. However, combined they are producing the biggest political story for a generation that is starting to put the coalition government’s long term future in serious doubt.
This has been the most challenging week in David Cameron’s tenure as Prime Minister. The fact that the government – and he personally – are so closely tied to the controversy is staggering. The questions that have arisen over his poor judgement go right to the heart of whether he is fit for office. How has he left himself and the government so open to attack? Why did he hire Andy Coulson knowing that he had been investigated by the police regarding hacking and had to resign as editor of the News of the World in disgrace? Why did he dismiss repeated warnings from colleagues about Coulson’s background? Why didn’t he go through the proper channels and refer Murdoch’s proposed takeover of BSkyB to the competition commission? And why was he so slow off the mark to recognise the political tsunami that was heading his way?
At this stage there is little question of the events of the past week bringing down the government. Unless there are dramatic revelations along the lines of Cameron knowing the extent to which hacking was taking place but chose to hire Coulson regardless, the coalition will survive in the short term. However, it is going to be interesting to assess the damage that this has done to the Prime Minister within the Conservative Party. David Cameron has never been a popular leader, particularly with his backbenchers. His pull towards the centre ground has meant he has alienated a sizable number of MPs who feel that he does not represent their rightwing views. This was compounded when his moderation strategy failed to win the last general election. When you add this to the lack of courtship that Downing Street offers and the disrespect many feel they are subject to by the government whips office (to say nothing about their unease on the direction of government policies and their relationship with the Liberal Democrats), you begin to appreciate how unhappy Conservative MPs are.
David Cameron’s poor judgement has narrowed the odds on an early general election taking place. His hubris has further eroded his standing amongst his own backbenchers and coalition partners. At a time when the government is making U-turns in every area of policy; when the economy is flat lining; and millions are facing deep and unnecessary cuts, the public are rightfully questioning whether they can depend on the Prime Minister’s judgement. As the events of the past week have demonstrated, David Cameron has shown he simply cannot be trusted.