I'm a news junkie. I have been for years, quite possibly since the miners' strike, certainly since the Brighton bomb. It's just in me: I love news. It should come as no surprise that the News of the World phone hacking scandal (that was – it's now hundreds of times larger than that) has had me transfixed like no story since the Coalition??negotiations??or September 11.
It's not just the shear inevitability of the story as it unfolds – albeit with some surprises in the detail – but the fact that it has proved something those of us on the left have been saying for years: Murdoch has power and influence on government that is truly terrifying. We all knew this, we all said it regularly, but nobody did anything about. When people like me shouted that Murdoch having Christmas dinner with Cameron was a bad thing, most people shrugged and said "so?". Certainly the politicians chose to ignore the disquiet, even politicians on the left.
But now it stands revealed: Murdoch has Cameron's balls in a drawer, as he had Blair's before him. That he failed to get Brown's balls was why he destroyed the man (Gordon didn't help by being useless as PM, of course). So when Murdoch announced he wanted to take full control of Sky, Cameron squeaked his approval and the opposition merely murmured, if they said anything at all. The government couldn't object, didn't want to object, because Murdoch had more than the Prime Minister's ear: he had (or was??perceived??to have) the power to destroy Cameron and his shoddy little government.
Adding Andy Coulson, a Murdoch favourite of the past, to the Downing Street staff helped Cameron keep Murdoch on side. It also helped Cameron with one of his biggest problems: the man doesn't have the common touch. Yeah, sure, Cameron has enough of Blair's earnestness and Clinton's empathy to make people believe that he's one of us. But he isn't. He's the rich son of a very rich father, he went to a private school and married a millionaire's daughter. He lives with other millionaires and has staff to look after his house. Whether or not he knows the price of a loaf of bread is unimportant – he's never even considered the idea of looking. It just gets put on his American Express Centurion Card and it gets paid by his accountant the moment the bill is due.
Cameron has no experience of small change or ??5 notes. He's never had a mortgage, he's never paid his own car tax. He's never arranged for a plumber to come nor tried to start the boiler. That was why he needed Coulson: someone who had done all those things but also was comfortable with the posh knobs like Cameron and Osborne that he was going to have to knock about with. Coulson could provide the common touch, slipping him details on basic things we all do for ourselves that Cameron had never done – never even conceived that people would do for themselves.??In Cameron's bubble, there was nobody who could provide this experience and expertise so hiring someone from outside was the way to go. It could only be a bonus that Murdoch himself provided a reference.
I'd assume Cameron thought he was buying himself some peace from Murdoch. The PM-in-a-bubble had no way of knowing how bad things were at News International. Indeed, he didn't want to know; it wouldn't matter anyway as it was never going to come out; and his close circle saw it – still sees it – as their job to keep their isolated, otherworldly PM-in-a-bubble in his bubble where he wants to be. When Ashdown and Rusbridger and others went to his advisors and tried to tip them off, they nodded, agreed and didn't pass the message on: the PM's bubble was not to be burst for a pair of lefties, or indeed anyone else.
People have disbelieved Cameron for saying that, while he asked Coulson for "reassurances" that he wasn't bringing baggage with him, he never pressed the matter and asked the natural follow-up questions. I do believe him. Why would he? In his Club, he never asks follow-up questions, rich gentlemen never do. With his colleagues he never asks follow-up questions, rich gentlemen won't answer. It would be a wrenching break with his character to even think of asking the basic questions you or I would ask. It'd be like asking the plumber how much he charged per hour: you and I would want to know that; Cameron might be mildly interested to see the invoice but really it doesn't concern him.
The problem with being the PM-in-a-bubble is that it has left him horribly exposed. Exposed as out-of-touch, yes, but also exposed to the popular backwash for the whole??sordid??News International affair. As a rich gentleman, he must be aware that he has implicitly at least given a handshake contract – the strongest kind – to Murdoch that the government will facilitate his takeover of BSkyB. That's now politically impossible, so it's been kicked successively further into the long grass in the hope that by the time the decision is made and Cameron is called to honour his handshake, the public will have forgotten the matter and the deal can proceed.
All this is why people on Twitter and in the non-Murdoch papers have been playing "Where's Dave?" today. The news conference he gave last week was designed to draw a line under the affair; when it became clear that a line could not be drawn and his association with Coulson directly, the poison of (and poisonous) Rebekah Brooks indirectly and Murdoch from afar was doing him real damage and he couldn't talk his way out of it nor just blame the previous government, he had to go to ground. If nothing else, the PM-in-a-bubble doesn't have someone to whisper in his ear the magic formula that the public would accept. He needs Coulson; and that's where the problems began.