Analysis: How much do phone-hacking charges hurt Cameron?

By Dr Matt Ashton

The news that Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, along with several other ex-employees of News International, are going to be charged over the phone-hacking scandal causes a variety of political problems for David Cameron. He can now use the excuse that because the cases are proceeding to trial he isn't allowed to talk about them, but this won't stop an inquisitive press from asking questions.

Politicians are famous for disavowing those hit by scandals, and the last few months has seen a frantic rewriting of history with Brooks and Coulson's links to the Conservative party being massively downplayed. I'm sure if they could be erased from official photos without anyone noticing they would be.

The main problem is that it yet further calls into question Cameron's judgement in terms of being so close to both of them. It's not often that close personal friends, and the former communication director of the prime minister, are charged with serious crimes, and there is no way this won't reflect on him. Firstly in terms of his willingness to become so close to the media elites in this country, and secondly because of his employment of Coulson and the vetting that was performed beforehand. There still hasn't been a fully satisfactory response given to what questions were asked of Coulson and the specific answers.

The second problem is that it could be quite a while before any court case occurs, meaning that this saga could be hanging over Cameron and the Conservatives right up until the next election. Along with the various banking scandals it potentially helps reinforce a narrative of the party being more interested in the wealthy than the general population. The six-months-long omnishambles could be with us for a long time to come.

The third issue is that this makes any sort of rapprochement with Murdoch and News International before the next election virtually impossible. It's no secret that the Times and the Sun have been a lot more negative in the last few months since Cameron publicly turned on Murdoch and set up the Leveson inquiry. While this doesn't mean they're going to be embracing Labour anytime soon, Murdoch's papers are now much more willing to publicise government mistakes and failings. In the next two years their lack of support could be problematic. Equally if they fail to fully endorse the Conservatives at the next election that could prove crucial. Under ideal circumstances I'm sure Cameron would have liked to try and mend this rift. There's no way this can happen now.

Finally there is the fact that the Leveson inquiry is now winding up with findings due out hopefully before the end of the year. Due to the length of the inquiry it had started to fade from the public's memory, making it easier for politicians to side-step or ignore whatever the report recommends.  These events bring the phone-hacking scandal sharply back into focus and the media spotlight putting pressure on them to take action.

The only real positive for Cameron in all of this is that Labour won't be able to make as much political capital out of this as they would like due to their own closeness to News International. However Ed Miliband is fully within his rights to point out that he didn't have Brooks over to dinner on a semi-regular basis – or employ Coulson.

Dr Matthew Ashton is a politics lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. Visit his blog.

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