No 'smoking gun' for David Cameron after Leveson Inquiry appearance

The was 'no smoking gun' to deeply hurt a Prime Minister who confessed to being 'haunted' by his comms choices at the Leveson Inquiry, industry experts have said.

David Cameron: admitted that ‘with hindsight’ he would not have hired former News of the World editor Andy Coulson
David Cameron: admitted that ‘with hindsight’ he would not have hired former News of the World editor Andy Coulson

Yesterday, David Cameron admitted that ‘with hindsight’ he would not have hired former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as comms chief in 2007, adding he was ‘haunted’ by the decision.

His words follow the Tories’ previous top comms man being charged over alleged perjury around the trial of Scottish politician Tommy Sheridan and continuing questions around phone hacking at Coulson’s former paper.

Nick Williams, head of public affairs, Fleishman-Hillard London said that the lack of a ‘smoking gun’ mean the Government would ‘live on to fight another day’.

Williams said that Cameron had been clearly well prepared, but said that the text messages proved a ‘turning point’.

‘He came out of it looking visibly weakened by the whole experience and some of the text messages will be repeated again and again,’ he added.

During yesterday’s appearance, Cameron’s links with the Murdoch media empire came under further scrutiny with the revelation of text messages sent to him by Rebekah Brooks, former editor of The Sun.

Among these was a message from the ex News International executive, charged this week with conspiring to pervert the course of justice, saying ‘we’re in this together’ after the paper switched allegiances to the Conservatives.  

In a recent statement to the Inquiry, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown alluded to support being given by the Tory leader for the BskyB bid in exchange for election backing.

However, Cameron dismissed this as ‘absolute nonsense from start to finish’, adding that there was ‘no covert deal,’ just an attempt to ‘win over [media] proprietors, but not trading policies for that support.’

Alex Deane, head of public affairs at Weber Shandwick and former adviser to Cameron when he was shadow secretary for education, defended the Prime Minister.

Deane said that he thought the performance, which drew mixed reviews from the media, would not impress entrenched critics but should ‘satisfy the fair mainstream observer.’  

He added: ‘He is always good under pressure and his Leveson appearance was no exception’

The Prime Minister’s witness statement revealed that he had 1,404 meetings with media figures while in opposition between 2005 and 2010 - an average of 26 a month.

Once in government, this average halved to around 13 a month.

Jo-ann Robertson, Ketchum Pleon MD for corporate and public affairs, said that the Inquiry was failing to gain traction ‘outside of the Westminster bubble as ‘normal’ people are too busy worrying about unemployment and what is around the next economic corner.’

However, she added: ‘The Prime Minister’s appearance before Leveson really brought home the communications advice that how you look is just as, if not more, important than what you say. Cameron looked uncomfortable and uneasy throughout the day and failed to portray a Prime Minister in control.’

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