Cameron must protect Britain's right-wing newspapers by leading the clean up operation
By Tim Montgomerie
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In today's Telegraph - in what must be one of the strongest attacks ever written in that newspaper on a Conservative Prime Minister - Peter Oborne, reflecting on Cameron's links with Murdoch executives, writes that it is now "impossible" to believe that the Conservative leader is grounded in a decent set of values. Ouch. Oborne is a gifted and entertaining writer but he's not the most consistent and he's not afraid of hyperbole. Let's remember that - just a few weeks ago - this same Telegraph columnist was arguing that Cameron had the makings of a truly great Prime Minister - as great as Atlee and Thatcher, he said. Oborne was selling Mr Cameron a little too high then and certainly too low now.
Make no mistake, however, this is an important moment for David Cameron... and for centre right journalism.
Taking David Cameron first. An overnight poll from Survation found that just 9% of people felt that he had, so far, handled 'hackgate' "well". At a dinner last night with Conservative MPs there was almost universal agreement that the PM needed to take a stronger lead on the scandal engulfing News International. There was real concern that the Prime Minister was being held back from resolute action because of his relationship with Andy Coulson. Yesterday Matthew Barrett speculated that Team Cameron was nervous about the diaries Mr Coulson kept when he was at the Tory leader's side. One of the lessons of Watergate is that it's the cover up rather than the initial offence that can kill. Cameron must not appear timid or compromised on this issue. He must not allow Ed Miliband (who is, today, employing a dirty journalist as his head of comms) to style himself as the champion of the News of the World's victims.
Two immediate actions are necessary. On Radio 4 this morning Boris Johnson called for a judge-led and immediate inquiry into the sick events that have occured at the News of the World. Cameron must initiate an urgent inquiry, the configuration of which commands public confidence. The government must also delay Rupert Murdoch's takeover of BSkyB. While there are such big questions over the fitness and propriety of the Murdoch empire Jeremy Hunt should press the pause button.
Finally we must realise that this is an important moment for right-wing journalism. It is very possible, over time, that we'll learn that other newspapers such as the Daily Mirror haven't been angels in the techniques they've used but, for the moment, it's the right-wing newspapers that are in the frame. But as Cameron forces a full scale clean up of journalistic practices we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Guardian's Michael White - yesterday - and The Independent - today - have both defended the fact that the British press is brilliant at investigative reporting and exposing wrongdoing. But its other crucial role has been to create a balanced debate in this country. With fresh admissions at the BBC that they don't represent Middle England on issues like immigration we can be grateful for newspapers that, day in and day out, champion the taxpayer, the victims of crime and Euroscepticism.
One reason why Britain is a conservative nation is that newspapers like The Sun, Mail and Express champion the public mood. The Left will seek opportunities to damage these newspapers in the months ahead. Conservatives must be alive to this and in seeking to clean out the stables with at least as much vim as any other person we must, at the same time, protect those stables from the Left's desire to destroy them completely.