Journalists divided over new Tory comms director

Political editors are divided over the Conservative Party's appointment of a former News of the World editor as its director of communications.

Andy Coulson will take up the job on July 9, it was announced today. He will supervise all aspects of the party's communications as it attempts to win the next general election.

The appointment ends a long-running trawl for Alastair Campbell-type figure by party chiefs (PRWeek, 26 January).

Benedict Brogan, political editor at the Daily Mail, said: 'You could hear the sigh of relief among Conservatives at Westminster. The leader has been trying for at least a year to find a media heavyweight willing to take charge of shaping and disseminating the message, and his search has finally paid off.'

Brogan predicted that Coulson would do well in the role. He said: 'Politics is not Coulson's specialist subject. But he can spot a turkey - he was the one who branded Mr Cameron's crime policy "hug a hoodie". The grammars row shows how desperately the party needs that sort of skill. The hotline to Rupert Murdoch, I'm sure, is just a useful extra.'

But Michael White, assistant editor and former political editor at the Guardian, suggested that the appointment might backfire.

He said: 'I don't know him, but I'm told he's smart and personable, more relaxed than many editors. More to the point he's a Murdoch protege, a high-flyer who knows the boss. That's clearly part of the Cameroons' calculations.

'But that's a two-edge calculation for two reasons. Fleet Street people don't do TV very well, the Tories made that mistake before - with Amanda Platell, Guy Black and Nick Wood. TV is crucial. And if the Sun or Times gets a scoop, then the Mail and Telegraph will get cross.'

He added: 'There's also the obvious problem, the one Labour will grab with both hands. Coulson left Fleet Street under a cloud over the royal phone-tapping affair. Did he know and was part of a cover-up? Was he in the dark and not in charge of his paper?'

It is understood that Coulson, who resigned after one of his reporters bugged the royal family, has no history with the Conservative party.

Conservative leader David Cameron said: 'Andy is a hugely experienced journalist. I am delighted that he has agreed to join my team as director of communications and planning.

'Andy will make a formidable contribution as a senior member of my team in building the most effective strategy and operation to win the next general election. I look forward very much to working with him.'

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