PM’s judgment further exposed

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DAVID Cameron is mistaken if he hopes a judge-led inquiry will defuse the News of the World phone hacking scandal and related allegations that precipitated the arrest of Andy Coulson, the Prime Minister’s former communications secretary.

In normal circumstances, an inquiry launch, and raft of supporting policy moves, would deflect attention away from the Prime Minister’s personal liability. After all, such tactics have been successfully deployed in the past and come straight from the handbook of tabloid journalists who go on to become pivotal political advisers.

However, this affair is of a totally different magnitude and will continue to undermine Mr Cameron’s credibility until he is far more candid, and apologetic, about why he hired a former editor who had resigned in disgrace when his Royal reporter was jailed for hacking into the phone of Prince William.

The Prime Minister should have been far more rigorous with the checks that he undertook ahead of Mr Coulson’s appointment. That he was not, and that he then compounded this lapse by failing to heed the confidential warnings of Alan Rusbridger, whose Guardian newspaper has been exposing the scale of hacking, will be a matter of lasting regret.

In Downing Street yesterday, the Tory leader – a former PR man himself – looked as uncomfortable as Tony Blair did when he was told about the death of Iraq weapons inspector Dr David Kelly.

Mr Blair’s reputation never fully recovered from this and the current PM will suffer a similar fate until he squares his misjudgment with the British people. On three occasions, Mr Cameron was asked by Newsnight’s Michael Crick to justify his involvement with Mr Coulson – and on three occasions the Tory leader obfuscated with indirect answers that simply compounded his unease.

For, when Mr Cameron concedes that he is still a “friend” of a man who has been arrested by Scotland Yard, and whose newspaper violated the privacy of so many people, including murder victims and those killed while at war, he is suggesting that he still does not grasp the scale of the crisis. And, until he does, voters have every reason to question the Prime Minister’s judgment.