Conservative Party mull replacement for Andy Coulson

Candidates for top comms job emerge as Labour targets embattled former tabloid editor

In the spotlight: Andy Coulson
In the spotlight: Andy Coulson

Senior Conservatives are privately considering who would replace Andy Coulson as the party's communications chief should the former News of the World editor eventually be forced to stand down over phone-hacking claims.

Coulson has found himself in the spotlight as a result of last week's Guardian expose of phone hacking at the News of the World.

As the news broke last Thursday, Labour insiders told PRWeek about their party's plans to target the former tabloid editor. A senior Labour source in regular contact with Gordon Brown's inner circle said: 'Cameron wants to present himself as the man who's going to clean up politics. That will be difficult if the public think his right-hand man is a complete sleazeball.'

This week, Tory strategists insisted Coulson had survived the initial media onslaught and said he was likely to stay put. Nevertheless, some Tories are still jittery about the possibility that a 'smoking gun' could emerge, and that Coulson could be questioned by MPs on the culture, media and sport select committee.

One senior Conservative said: 'We don't know what else might emerge as part of the court discovery process. It looks like Coulson is out of the woods - for the time being.'

But another Tory strategist insisted there was no more dirt to be dished about Coulson: 'If there was something to get out, we would have got it out by now.'

Tory strategists agreed that if Coulson had to go, then Boris Johnson's director of comms Guto Harri would be a strong contender to step into his shoes, having previously been in the frame for the job.

There are also other options available, the Tories believe. 'There are plenty of people should they be needed,' said a Tory strategist. 'Journalists who are close to the Cameroons number at least ten.'

Meanwhile, one respected PR boss said that if anyone were to replace Coulson they would face a tough job. Weber Shandwick's head of corporate and public affairs Michael Prescott said: 'One thing that is overlooked about this post is that you need formidable physical and psychological stamina. In politics, it's rare to get people who have the stamina to do the job - a week or a month of it would have most people handing in their notice. The thing about Coulson is that he is both tough and resilient.'


Possible contenders

3/1 Guto Harri: Boris Johnson's comms chief was considered for the Coulson job while he was at the BBC.

5/1 Trevor Kavanagh: The Tories have tried and failed to get Kavanagh, now associate editor at The Sun. Could the lure of Downing Street finally tempt him?

10/1 Nick Robinson: The BBC political editor is a former president of the Oxford University Conservative Association. Stranger things have happened.

15/1 Fraser Nelson: The Spectator political editor has excellent links with Cameron's inner circle but he is still relatively youthful.

1,000/1 Damian McBride: Gordon Brown's former media handler has relevant experience and is looking for a job. Of course, it would take a conversion of Damascene proportions.


Vital stats

4 Years Coulson was editor of News of the World

23 Months Coulson has been Tory comms director

3,000 Number of people who may have had phones tapped

£700k NotW payment to Gordon Taylor over phone tapping

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