Harry Cole’s appointment as political editor of The Sun in May saw him return to his old newsroom. Last time he stepped over the threshold in 2015, he was a young diarist, delighted to score a plum role while the country slowly recovered from recession.
This time, he was hired as Britain teetered on the edge of another recession. With journos being furloughed and laid off in droves, Cole strode through a deserted central London in a sharp suit and tie, about to get his next big break.
Cole has covered one of Westminster’s liveliest decades: expenses, coalition, Scottish Independence, Brexit and Covid-19. Since starting his new role, he has already scored a string of exclusives – not so easy these days for a political hack whose modus operandi for scoops is still the long lunch of the El Vino’s variety. From interviewing the wife of disgraced MP Charlie Elphicke after he had been found guilty of three sex attacks, to reporting on PM Boris Johnson risking a “major row” with President Trump over TikTok, Cole has quickly made his mark, even being entrusted to babysit Trevor Kavanagh’s column. As if that’s not enough, in his spare time Cole has been working on the renovation of a 19th-century, former Baptist chapel in Kent near where he grew up.
Graduating from Edinburgh in 2009, a turgid job market forced Cole – a politics grad – to be creative when it came to job hunting. A stalwart of his university’s Conservative Association, he launched a blog called Tory Bear where he wrote about student politics. Paul Staines, who runs Guido Fawkes, recognised Cole’s nose for a story and hired him as Guido’s 2009 summer intern. In May that year, the MP expenses scandal broke. Cole, in the right place at the right time, covered the story for Guido. It was his first foray into the world of Westminster gossip and his style of journalism – uncompromising, ballsy and salacious – was the perfect medium. He stayed at Guido for six years, before becoming contributing editor at The Spectator, Westminster correspondent at The Sun and deputy political editor of The Mail on Sunday, where he had his own waspish gossip column.
“Which prominent member of Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench team is using expensive lawyers Carter-Ruck to try to suppress a negative story about their adult offspring?”: this was the kind of Colean sentence that put the fear of God into MPs and the political class – the antithesis of soft-touch BBC reporting. What’s more, Cole loves putting himself at the heart of the social scene made up of Westminster’s bright young things; it’s no secret that he dated Carrie Symonds before Boris Johnson did.
Hailed by ConservativeHome as a member of the Westminster “brat pack” in 2011, Cole’s credentials have been cemented by his ability to deftly expose information usually reserved for die-hard, lobby-credentialed politicos. In 2015, Cole penned a piece titled “Meet Dave’s secret A-list” in which he explained the priorities and processes behind the selection of Conservative candidates under David Cameron’s leadership. Cole skewered safe-seat candidates and exposed a CCHQ trend: Oxbridge-educated, often-lawyers, BAME or women – he describes the cluster as “extremely quiet about their ideology – there is not an original idea to be found anywhere on their identikit websites”. Ahead of the 2015 general election, Cole wrote that the political class should “stop whining and get down in the gutter and bludgeon each other”. He continued, “I have zero sympathy for anyone complaining about the exposure of truth.”
Cole has something of a gaping hole to fill since Jeremy Corbyn was replaced as Labour leader in April. His mocking criticism of Corbyn was so consistent that he must miss him in the way that one misses a classroom rival or an irritating colleague, especially when a vexation arises that can no longer be blamed on them. Soon after Corbyn became leader in 2015, Cole had a tussle with him on College Green, with Corbyn repeatedly saying “goodbye” in response to Cole’s questioning.
Following the 2019 general election, Cole got his own back, tweeting, “Bye, Jeremy Corbyn. A little man lecturing from the gutter.” Considering this thorny relationship, and Corbyn’s landslide loss in December, are we still living in an era of “It’s The Sun wot won it”? If so, Harry Cole is one of the most powerful men in Britain.
As Autumn closes in, I wonder what advice Cole has for this year’s university leavers, graduating into a recession with little hope of a cushy, establishment grad scheme to ease their entry. Blogging isn’t so trendy now, perhaps the next political editor of The Sun is a similarly outspoken rising star on TikTok.