The sound of frantic backpedalling can be heard among Westminster Tories as the Maily Telegraph has broken ranks with those keeping schtum and pitched the name of Andrew Feldman as the likely source of the observation “The MPs just have to do it because the associations tell them to, and the associations are all mad swivel-eyed loons” when talking about opposition to Europe and same sex marriage.
Patrick Hennessy, the Sunday Telegraph’s Political Editor, has his name on the by-line, and so the likelihood is that this story will not only be on the front page of tomorrow’s print edition, but most likely will lead it. Feldman is telling anyone who is brave enough to make enquiries as to his connection to the remark that he is in the process of taking legal advice.
This is a not at all subtle way of suggesting that the Fourth Estate backs off, unless it wants everything to get eye-wateringly expensive in short order. However, and in these cases there is inevitably a however, Isabel Oakeshott of the Sunday Times has now taken to Twitter to tell “I now have a full account of what happened re Loongate ... I think No 10 should tread very carefully ... this could get very messy”.
Hennessy notes that “Sources close to him said he was at a dinner on Wednesday night for the Conservative Friends of Pakistan at the InterContinental Hotel at Westminster and had spoken to journalists - but denied using the words attributed to the unnamed senior figure” but also points out that “Today a spokesman for The Daily Telegraph said the newspaper stood by its original story”.
Why this matters to the Tory Party is that Feldman is not an MP, but he is one of Young Dave’s jolly good pals, the two of them having been at Oxford’s Brasenose College together. Feldman had a financial role in the Cameron leadership campaign, became party CEO in 2008, and after the 2010 General Election became co-chair of the party, along with Sayeeda Warsi.
He is still co-chair, albeit now alongside Grant “Spiv” Shapps, but has retained his position despite two high profile lapses: Feldman chose David Rowland as party treasurer, only for him to be forced to step down after revelations about his past. Then Peter Cruddas was brought in as co-treasurer, only to fall victim to a Sunday Times sting regarding “cash for access”.
If Feldman were to get into yet more hot water, papers like the Mail, which has already run stories such as “How PM gave his Oxford chum top job (and a peerage)” would be all over No 10 like a rash. Cameron is now, however inadvertently, involved in yet another credibility battle with the media, and if the dam bursts, no amount of legal threats will hold back the wall of water.
Tomorrow’s front pages may make for difficult reading in Downing Street.