Given the skilful way the Conservatives have used the news media to prepare public opinion for the cutback in child benefit announced at this week’s party conference in Birmingham, it is no wonder that Labour MPs are continuing to gun for David Cameron’s communications chief Andy Coulson.
Channel 4’s Dispatches programme – which made fresh allegations about Coulson’s involvement in phone-hacking by News of the World journalists – provided ready-made ammunition for Opposition MPs and another barrage of damaging publicity. But Coulson is standing firmly by his previous denials of having had any knowledge of how the paper’s royal editor hacked into mobile phone messages. This is despite fresh claims by an unidentified former senior journalist that Coulson listened in personally to intercepted voicemails of public figures. Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich, has called on Cameron to make a statement to Parliament. Nicholas Jones, author of Campaign 2010, says Coulson has a pivotal role as Downing Street’s director of communications in co-ordinating the media build up to announcements by the coalition government about the current spending review. The decision to withdraw child benefit from parents who are higher rate taxpayers was a well kept secret but the possibility of a cut was trailed in both the Sunday newspapers and weekend radio and television programmes, preparing the ground for the Chancellor George Osborne. Campaign 2010 provides an insider’s account of how Coulson was appointed the Conservatives’ media chief in 2007 and then worked with Cameron to prize the support of the Murdoch press away from the Labour government. Cameron has been a beneficiary of the style of campaigning journalism favoured by the Sun and the News of the World and under Coulson’s guidance his government is managing to orchestrate favourable coverage for the spending cuts which are now being announced. Jones says Campaign 2010 gives readers a step by step guide as to how Cameron and Coulson succeeded in bringing together the Conservative and Liberal Democrat media teams to promote the first peace-time coalition government and allow Cameron to claim that under his Premiership politicians from opposing parties can work together in the national interest. END