As Young Dave ends his press conference – and finds that the questions about his hiring of Andy Coulson are both well informed and incessant – he is discovering that condemning the behaviour of Rupe’s troops and their hangers-on is one thing, but swimming away from the pull of a sinking ship is quite another.
Indeed, Cameron is now in the position of knowing that he himself was not immune from the tentacles of Phonehackgate: after the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the seventeenth Baronet, had his mobile targeted over the unfortunate conjunction of using the services of a prostitute and enjoying an extended meeting with Charlie, Cameron was also targeted in pursuit of standing up the rumour that he, too, was a connoisseur of white powder and rolled banknotes.
So one might think that Young Dave would be so jolly well ticked off at the lower orders listening in that he would not only dissociate himself from the lot of them, but also unequivocally call for Rupe and Junior to clean up their particular Augean stables on pain of, well, not allowing them anywhere near the part of BSkyB that they do not already control.
But Cameron has equivocated. He appears to have dissembled on his hiring of Coulson. He is rowing back from full-throated condemnation of the Murdoch empire. He appears to be pursuing the line that says, roughly, that any enquiry must be allowed to proceed and that due process must be followed, and that by implication it will all die down if he kicks it far enough into the long grass.
And that’s not good enough. Moreover, it won’t work: as I noted last month, Glenn Mulcaire, whose work for the Screws has formed the basis for most of the recent slew of revelations, was only one of around a dozen investigators working for those who scrabble around on the dunghill that is Grubstreet. Jonathan Rees, alone, could be sitting on even more routine illegality.
There is no point in trying to wish this away. And there is even less point in continuing to appease Murdoch. There is a line of argument that suggests Rupe will be back for revenge, but the Dirty Digger is now in his 81st year, his various heirs and lieutenants are proving worryingly inept, and public sympathy is ebbing fast, almost as in the prelude to an approaching tsunami.
This is where Cameron is misjudging the story, the politics, and the mood. The one true test of leadership, as J K Galbraith summed it up, is “the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of the people in their time”. FDR did not fear fear itself, nor Winshton the Third Reich. Young Dave should not fear facing down Rupert Murdoch, whose empire is, whisper it quietly, on the way out.
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