John Harris of The Guardian authors a profile of Andy Coulson, Tory communications director, in today’s glossy Weekend section of the newspaper. It appears to be a profile based on very little access (Andy Coulson rightly wants an end to the Tories talking about themselves and what he calls the "internal wiring") but does, nonetheless, offer a readable overview of the man widely credited with helping to turnaround Tory fortunes:
Coulson the man: Raised in the Essex town of Basildon, Andy Coulson was educated at a comprehensive. He is married with two young sons. Harris spends a large part of the piece discussing the extent of Andy Coulson’s involvement in the royal bugging scandal that led to his resignation from the editorship of the News of the World.
The Coulson-Osborne partnership: George
Osborne is said to have recruited Andy Coulson [networker Osborne has
also played a big role in getting Cameron into the diary of John
McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Google’s CEO]. This, to Osborne’s
credit, was despite Coulson’s frontpage News of the World story in the
autumn of 2005 about the Shadow Chancellor, a hooker and the use of
cocaine. Osborne denied using drugs with the woman. Harris:
of this unlikely [Coulson-Osborne] courtship were greeted with
incredulous gasps: as one Cameron-watcher puts it, the logic behind
what Osborne was up to seemed to amount to, "This guy stitched me up
like a kipper – let’s hire him.""
While Editor of the NotW Coulson was also responsible for exposing one of Boris Johnson’s extra-marital affairs.
Coulson’s politics: While
Editor of the NotW he advised readers to vote for Tony Blair at the
2005 General election but he never appeared comfortable with Labour.
William Hague was his principal columnist. When Hague returned to the
Tory benches he recruited Fraser Nelson. Harris writes that the News
of the World was consistently Eurosceptical during his editorship. He
is also a committed interventionist in the war on terror. Former Sun
Bizzare columnist, Coulson is nowhere near as political as Alistair
Campbell – the man he is often compared to. Piers Morgan tells Harris
that this is a good thing. The former Mirror Editor thinks that
Coulson may have much more of a popular touch.
Coulson’s early days: Coulson
was, in some people’s eyes, slow to make an impression. For Harris he
spent some weeks watching, waiting and learning. He arrived when Tory
morale was in freefall and he wanted to understand the operation before
choosing his role within it. He had the same wait-and-see reputation
at the NotW. One recruitment trick of his was to take potential
employees out for an evening and see how their character changed after
they’d had a few (too many) drinks.
Coulson’s role: Harris cannot
decide whether Coulson’s principal role has been to deliver more
"tabloid punch" to already decided-upon political announcements – as
when he coined the ‘Anarchy in the UK’ theme in August – or whether he
has broadened the Conservative message – by arguing for the inheritance
tax cut and a return to talking about immigration. I also understand he was instrumental in downgrading the Gummer-Goldsmith report. It’s surely a bit
An example of Coulson at work: Harris uses the National Citizen Service policy launch as an example of Coulson at his best:
of the best examples of the punch he has brought to the Tories’ PR came
in September, when he gave the Sun the inside track on Tory plans for
National Citizen Service, a very Cameroonian proposal whereby
18-year-olds would be obliged to put in six weeks of voluntary work. It
was at Coulson’s suggestion that the idea was launched with the Tory
leader being pictured in Bolton with the British-Asian boxer Amir Khan,
thus packaging Cameron’s worries about social exclusion and urban youth
in a mixture of multi-ethnic modernity and tabloid-friendly toughness.
"This will make people feel proud about themselves and about their
country," ran a quote from Cameron that betrayed Coulson’s influence.
"It will mix people from different backgrounds: north and south, black
and white, rich and poor. It will be a way of learning respect for our
country and each other, just like national service was." The joining up
of Tory traditionalism with Cameroonian touchy-feeliness was almost
comical, but it did its work."
Coulson’s place in Team Cameron:
Despite all of his considerable achievements, Harris suggests that
Coulson remains slightly outside the Cameron-Hilton-Osborne core of the
Tory machine. My guess is that that’s wrong. Steve Hilton will enjoy
a special place in the leader’s circle because of a long-standing
friendship and because David Cameron has no intention of retreating
from a ‘politics of and’ where traditionalist and Hilton’s moderniser
messages are blended. But Andy Coulson has earnt his place at the very
heart of Team Cameron. He and Osborne providing a good balance to
Cameron and Hilton.