Handled badly from start to finish but Coulson verdict won’t derail Cameron

As Andy Coulson contemplates what might be a significant spell behind bars, attention has inevitably turned to his most recent employer, namely David Cameron – the man who brought Mr Coulson into the Conservative Party after Mr Coulson had stepped down as News of the World editor and who then took Mr Coulson into Downing Street as Director of Communications.

Mr Cameron now faces questions about his judgement in employing Mr Coulson and the way in which the former Director of Communications was vetted. Did vetting take a back seat to Mr Cameron getting his man?

As an example of communications it’s been a pretty lamentable story from start to finish – ironic given that Mr Coulson has been praised in numerous quarters as an effective operator of the Downing Street press machine. Mr Cameron is now paying the price for taking a mighty gamble on Mr Coulson. To his credit, Mr Cameron has made the apology he always said he would if Mr Coulson was found guilty. But even that statement has attracted the ire of the High Court judge presiding over the case.

The big question is of course whether Mr Coulson’s conviction will cause any lasting damage to Mr Cameron. The next few days will be inevitably be difficult – but will this episode come back to haunt him at the most important point, namely the General Election?

The short version is that it probably won’t. There are still ten months before the General Election. Plenty of time for the Conservative machinery to move on and focus on policy that engages the electorate. Mr Cameron can also comfort himself with recent opinion polls that have shown he enjoys far higher ratings than either Nick Clegg or Ed Miliband. Indeed, recent polls suggest the public struggle to identify with Mr Miliband and are hard pressed to see him as a future Prime Minister. Labour will have to be careful in their handling of the situation, lest the Party be dragged into an unedifying shouting match that would involve Tories reiterating previously heard criticisms over Labour personnel and their conduct, including while in office. And there is a very valid question of the extent to which the appointment of Mr Coulson would be a determining factor for voters rather than issues such as the future of the NHS and welfare spending.

Mr Cameron will doubtless be chastened by the experience, but Mr Coulson’s conviction will not be the issue that costs the Conservatives the election, should they lose in 2015.