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Nick Wood: Cameron cannot win without The Mail, Telegraph and Express

Spinwars_2 Former Times journalist Nick Wood was a media adviser to Conservative leaders William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith. He now runs Media Intelligence Partners.  Nick begins his new weekly look at the media's coverage of the week's political events.

For the first time since Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, David Cameron has won the weekly battle of the headlines.

His robust interventions over youth crime, immigration and Europe have sparked approving noises from mass market newspapers, in particular The Sun (6 million readers); The Daily Mail (5 million); The Daily Telegraph (1.5 million) and The Daily Express (1.5 million).

Less prominence has been given to his interventions on the BBC, but in the last week Cameron has secured his first positive and prominent headlines in months from papers read by some 13 million people. Add in the Sundays over the past two weekends and he has hit the target with well over 20 million people

Even Richard Littlejohn and Amanda Platell, two of the Mail’s best read and most trenchant columnists, had something nice to say about him – definitely a first. The acerbic Andrew Pierce in the Telegraph was also impressed, though he rightly warned about the looming PR disaster of green taxes.

The polls, while hardly encouraging, have tilted back a little in the Tories’ direction, giving Brown pause for thought as he toys with an autumn election. But with Brown back at his desk and on the offensive, the media war this week will be more fiercely fought. We should expect the same over the next few weeks as Brown decides whether he can be sure of victory in late October.

The Left – principally The Guardian, The Independent and The Observer – have predictably reacted in mock horror, pretending that Cameron has abandoned his nice guy image and lurched wildly across the political spectrum to the right-wing precipice. Well, they would, wouldn’t they?

There are two reasons why Cameron should not pay too much attention to this kind of criticism. First, hardly anyone reads these papers (say 2 million in  all) and most of them are committed Labour or Lib Dem supporters. Second, Left-wing commentators have always branded Conservative leaders in danger of connecting with the electorate as right-wing fanatics. It happened to Margaret Thatcher, Norman Tebbit and Sir Keith Joseph all the time – and it did not prevent them winning three elections in a row.

One of the biggest mistakes made by the Conservatives over the last decade or so has been to fall for the propaganda of their political enemies. Sadly, many Tories have sheepishly come to think of themselves as the “nasty party” and so to shy away from battling for tough and controversial policies in areas such as tax, crime, immigration and Europe. No one is going to vote for a party that spends half its time apologising simply for being there.

Cameron and his modernising supporters are as guilty as anyone in this respect. They should regard being attacked by The Guardian – or the BBC – as a badge of honour. What do they expect? Sympathetic editorials suggesting that now the Tories are evidently so nice, they are deserving of support from the PC, public sector worthies who read these papers? Social workers for Cameron? I don’t think so.

Cameron and his team should dismiss the labels of Left, Right and Centre as so much tired Labour  abuse and focus on the issues – the Government’s catalogue of failures and bold Tory plans to put things right. His is not a “core vote strategy” – it is a strategy for putting the country to rights and winning an election.

If Andy Coulson, the new communications chief at Tory HQ, has told Cameron one thing, I suggest it is this: without the enthusiastic backing of the Mail, Telegraph and Express and a fair wind from The Sun and The Times, the election is lost – and lost badly. To coin a phrase: there is no alternative.


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