But the affair has also sullied Cameron, whose close personal ties to News Corp. executives dogged him in Parliament on Wednesday, presenting his Conservative-led coalition government with its most severe test since it came to power 14 months ago.
A sure-footed politician with a tongue sharpened by years of parliamentary sparring, Cameron, 44, is suddenly on the defensive. He confronted a chorus of boos Wednesday from the opposition Labor Party, whose 41-year-old leader, Ed Miliband, appears to have found his voice by seizing on the scandal.
Miliband blasted Cameron for hiring Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor arrested last week in connection with the scandal, as his communications director. He demanded that Cameron release additional details about information his office received about Coulson before hiring him, referring to accounts given to Cameron aides by the Guardian newspaper. The opposition also pressed Cameron to agree to appear before an independent inquiry if called.
“Most of all,” Miliband said, “he should apologize for the catastrophic error of judgment he made in hiring Andy Coulson.”
Cameron has also come under fire for his ties to Rebekah Brooks, the embattled chief executive of News Corp.’s British division, News International, and former chief of News of the World from 2000 to 2003, when phone-hacking incidents allegedly took place. The two own rural homes within miles of one other and have gone horseback riding together. This past Christmas, Brooks entertained Cameron at a get-together at her home, according to British media reports.
Cameron and Brooks form what the media here call the “Chipping Norton set,” named after the area where they live, about 75 miles northwest of London. The set also includes another Cameron neighbor, Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth, as well as her partner, the influential British PR guru Matthew Freud.
Cameron, who trod cautiously at first in condemning friends, appeared to break with them more clearly Wednesday. Using his strongest language yet, he said Brooks — who has reportedly offered her resignation, which Murdoch has not accepted — should step down. Brooks and Coulson have denied any knowledge of illegal newsgathering.
“She was right to resign. That resignation should have been accepted,” Cameron said in the House of Commons. “There needs to be root and branch change at this entire organization.”