Anyone looking for a lesson in deadpan testimony could have done worse than tune into Andy Coulson’s appearance at the Leveson Inquiry today.
It was an unedifying session with the former News of the World editor and ex-Number 10 communications chief, who was protected from having to discuss the phone hacking scandal due to his July 2011 arrest and subsequent bail as part of Operation Weeting.
Lord Justice Leveson and Robert Jay QC trod particularly heavily on his meeting with George Osborne in March 2007 to discuss the communications role with the Conservative party. “Did it not occur to you — why are they asking me?” Jay asked.
Coulson, who said he entered into the conversation with a “degree of reluctance” and that he “wasn’t thinking about politics at all”, reiterated that he had been in the newspaper industry for a long time, running campaigns and managing a team. Given the “electoral mountain” the party had to climb, these were seemingly useful credentials.
“The conversation was very much, ‘What do we need to do to get elected?’” Coulson said, clarifying that his role was to build relationships across media (he stressed more than once the “fundamental” role of television in explaining policy).
Pressing him further over his News International background, Coulson said his time at the media organisation might have been “considered useful” by the Tory party when considering him for the position, but “was not specifically discussed as being an advantage.” He also any refuted any suggestion that former NI chief executive Rebekah Brooks — due to give evidence tomorrow — had any influence in his recruitment.
Coulson was keen to stress that contact between the party and the media was above board. In his witness statement he wrote that “there was no quid pro quo” between them and NI or any other media organisation.
“I would certainly have taken every opportunity, to the point of becoming a bore, to sing the praises of David Cameron and the Conservative Party and to encourage them to support us. That was my job,” Coulson wrote.
He conceded that he was “not minded to disagree” with David Cameron that the relationships between some of the media and the government had become too cosy. Yet he warned Leveson against erecting more barriers, arguing that the public was already disengaging with politics and further restrictions would exacerbate “what is already a difficult process.”
Coulson ended his terse but lengthy afternoon session by noting the Inquiry has suggested that “a friendship is always based on some ulterior motive”. On the contrary, Leveson responded, arguing that the key was to maintain clarity in relationships.
The Inquiry continues tomorrow.
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