News Corp scandal is biggest challenge for Cameron

Fri Jul 8, 2011 9:07am EDT
 
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By Jodie Ginsberg

LONDON (Reuters) - He has faced criticism over threats to impose a U.S.-style healthcare system, plans to reduce sentences for rapists, and proposed cuts to pensions and benefits.

But it is his decision to hire a former journalist tainted by a phone-hacking scandal that is posing the greatest test of British Prime Minister David Cameron's year-old leadership.

Cameron recruited Andy Coulson as his spokesman in 2007, six months after Coulson quit as editor of the News of the World tabloid over phone-hacking that saw his royal editor jailed -- and which this week forced Rupert Murdoch's News Corp to announce the closure of the paper.

Despite warnings from at least one senior newspaper editor that Coulson, arrested by police on Friday, could prove a liability, he was kept on as communications head after Cameron led the right-leaning Conservative party into coalition government last year.

"There was this big media trial in the offing," said Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, referring to a case involving one of the investigators, subsequently jailed, whom Coulson's paper had used.

"I just thought Cameron ought to know because at the time he was going around saying he totally believed in Coulson... I wasn't the only Fleet Street figure to warn about Coulson to Cameron," Rusbridger told Reuters.

JUDGMENT IN QUESTION

On Friday the prime minister defended his decision to retain Coulson, even as his former spokesman was at a police station answering questions about the affair. A police source later said Coulson had been arrested.   Continued...