The strange case of George Osborne, Andy Coulson, the prostitute’s memoirs and Number Ten

UK chancellor George Osborne is supposed to have been the politician who persuaded then Tory leader (and now PM) David Cameron to hire former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his director of communications (not the wisest advice George has ever proffered).

Coulson was eventually forced to resign when it emerged that phone hacking at the News of the World was rife under his editorship.

Osborne and Coulson crossed swords at least once at the NoW when the paper ran a spoiler story in its first edition of October 16 2005 about Osborne’s alleged friendship with former prostitute Natalie Rowe who had sold her story to rival the Sunday Mirror.

This is common practice in the tabloids but not, as in this case, in the first edition of the paper. Usually they read their rivals’ first offerings and then cobble something together.

But the story had first been offered to Coulson at the NoW but he had subsequently fallen out with kiss and tell PR Max Clifford who was handling the sale of Rowe’s ‘memoirs.’

Now Rowe has claimed on Australian TV that the NoW came by the story via phone hacking, either hers or that of Clifford or one of his assistants. Clifford himself accepted a settlement of up to £1m from the NoW for phone hacking although we don’t know precisely what was hacked because he signed a confidentiality agreement.

This is all very odd, leaving several enticing questions unanswered but appearing to tighten the noose on Coulson, who has been arrested and bailed for his alleged part in the affair. Surely he must have known where the first edition spoiler came from?

But how much did Osborne know about the mechanics of the exposure in two papers of his alleged friendship with Rowe? And why, with his knowledge of at least some of these dirty doings, did he recommend a principal player, Coulson, to his boss Cameron?

Maybe he preferred Coulson inside the tent than outside? Some papers have suggested that Coulson got the job for somehow helping to protect Osborne back in 2005.

So far Cameron, Osborne and the UK coalition government as a whole have managed to slide off the hook in the phone hacking affair despite their employment of Coulson and friendship with other senior News International figures including Cameron’s weekend neighbour Rebekah Brooks.

But now it has rekindled interest in Osborne’s juvenile doings, which he must have thought he had put a lid on with his firm denials. And maybe more of this tangled web will be revealed.

The last thing the Tories in the coalition government need is a revival of that old Labour accusation, ‘Tory sleaze.’

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.