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Gormengone – a story of crumbling institutions

I last saw Andy Coulson about two weeks ago. He got on a Victoria train at West Dulwich and squeezed into the sardine can run by Southeastern.

In the crush he looked unremarkable, early middle age, suit jacket and blue jeans, reading what looked like The Times (I was half a carriage away). The only sign of emotion came with a half frown as a woman crushed past him into a square centimetre of extra space.

Today this mild looking commuter is facing questioning by the police. If this was America, he would have been taken from his home in handcuffs in the full glare of the media scrum.

There is no doubt that Coulson will become the face of the phone hacking scandal along with Mulcaire. The Tommy Sheridan case comes back into focus over payments to the police. The 4000 victims will relive their personal anguish. The centrifuge of inquiry will spin stories out of this saga for years.

Comeron today took it head on and did a good job, drawing a neat balance between his judgement over employing Coulson, the light shone on unsavoury media and police activities and the need to give a lead away from this dark place.
Investigations need to take place, inquiries too. In the process we must be careful not to let appalling actions rob us of a free press, one that is fiercely competitive in the UK in a way that, at its best, is world beating and democratically enhancing.

In fact Cameron has a good record on transparency and only this week opened up another huge amount of data for the public to scrutinise and judge what is done with our money and in our name (http://bit.ly/r0bNkK ). And that is on top of a great deal that is already out there.

Of course, this is humdrum against the pulsating cacophony of voices, personalities and issues that the NoW phone hacking saga has brought to the surface. MPs seems to have found their voices about media issues, at least according to commentators who saw the Wednesday 3 hour debate as a watershed. I must confess I saw it as at least as much about the time for pay back after the expenses scandal as about outrage over the truly appalling nature of the hacking that has been discovered.

In political communications terms the main aim is to take control of a difficult agenda and not have it imposed on you. Thereafter you want to set it on a path which takes the heat out of it before moving onto the issues that you want highlighted. That is likely to be impossible. The issues raised by the NoW are a perfect storm comprising all that fascinates the public beyond the Westminster village. The papers that give us celebrity news, human interest and tragedy, police on the make, politicians climbing the greasy pole, mega businesses that people loathe and court.

This issue will define Cameron’s domestic agenda as much as the economy in his first Parliament. He will face many more questions about his employment of Andy Coulson. He has, at least, now got his hands on the steering wheel, but he in only too aware that he’s in for a long drive.

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