Writes Nicholas Jones, author of Campaign 2010: The Making of the Prime Minister.
Andy Coulson’s crucial role in helping David Cameron win the backing of the Murdoch press is still paying handsome dividends for the coalition government.
One of his first tasks on being appointed the Conservatives’ media chief in the spring of 2007 – four months after resigning as editor of the News of the World – was to convince Cameron of the importance of aligning party policy with the Sun’s style of campaigning journalism.
Coulson considered his greatest journalistic achievement to be the introduction of ‘Sarah’s Law’, the News of the World’s long running and ultimately successful campaign to allow parents access to information about known paedophiles who could pose a risk to children.
Under Coulson’s guidance Cameron learned how to exploit the mindset of the Murdoch press and he began to tailor the Conservatives PR tactics to take advantage of its campaigns. He promised a ‘forces’ manifesto’ in response to the Sun’s support for ‘Our Boys’; and in November 2008 he supplied a signed article giving his personal backing on the day the Sun launched a petition to force the sacking of Sharon Shoesmith, head of children’s services for the London Borough of Haringey, in the ‘Baby P case’.<!--more-->
‘Labour’s lost it’ was the banner headline on the Sun’s front page when it announced that it had abandoned Gordon Brown on the morning after his speech to the 2009 Labour conference. An editorial said the paper believed ‘Cameron’s Conservatives' could put ‘the “great” back into Great Britain’.
The Sun’s support for the Conservatives during the 2010 general election has continued during the early months of the coalition government. Coulson is now the Downing Street director of communications and he has made sure that the Prime Minister has lost none of his flair for aligning himself with the paper’s campaigning journalism.
In mid August Cameron launched the Sun’s campaign against social security abuse with a signed article headlined: ‘People will not get away with fraud’ (Sun, 12.8.2010). The Sun has a hotline number and a dedicated email address for readers to report benefit cheats and has published a succession of stories about ‘scroungers’ and ‘spongers’ living off benefits.
A campaign like this, in a newspaper with a circulation the size of the Sun, does feed through into wider news coverage about the justification for an imminent crackdown and tightening of the rules for qualifying for job seeker’s allowance or disability living allowance, one of the key priorities of the autumn spending round.
Once Coulson was signed up as the Conservatives’ director of communications, after resigning in the wake of the prison sentences imposed in the News of the World scandal over the tapping of mobile phones, he began to work his way back into media circles. One of his first assignments was taking Cameron to the annual lunch of the Journalists’ Charity at which Cameron declared his support for Britain’s great tradition of campaigning journalism; he singled out the Sun for praise for its investigation into the plight of forces families.
The link between Cameron and the Murdoch press is explored in greater detail in Campaign 2010.
Campaign 2010: The Making of the Prime Minister is available from the Biteback website.