Conservative Diary

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What has happened to the Tory-Guardian relationship?

Guardian The Conservatives may have won The Sun's support but are they losing the goodwill of The Guardian?

It was never likely that The Guardian would back the Conservatives at the next General Election but it had been increasingly open-minded and ran a series of features last year in which it praised Tory efforts to move in a "progressive" direction.  This produced satisfaction at CCHQ where the newspaper is seen as the natural read of the ideas class and, notably, of the BBC.  As part of the wooing process The Guardian has regularly received exclusives from the Tory leadership - often to the annoyance of the traditional centre right press.

In the last week, however, the relationship has appeared to turn sour...

  • The lowest point came on Saturday when a front page splash (notably NOT from the newspaper's political team and heavily rebutted since) talked about the "unravelling" of George Osborne's reputation as "a would-be Tory chancellor".  More Mirror, than Guardian.
  • This followed very negative coverage of the Tory leader's speech.  The main headline in Friday's edition was "Cameron's war on the state".  Columnist Martin Kettle warned that Cameron risked "unsealing the deal" with the centre left.
  • The Guardian's stable mate, The Observer, continued the anti-Tory theme on Sunday.  It led with an attack on the Tories' European allies from Foreign Secretary David Miliband.
  • On the day of David Cameron's speech The Guardian attempted to run a story about Tory plans to raise VAT to 20%.  The story was downgraded by later editions.

The newspaper has also been running a pretty silly campaign against The TaxPayers' Alliance - suggesting it may be a front organisation for the Tories.  Tory leaders in local government would form a very long queue to dispute that.

There is genuine concern within The Guardian at the Tory response to the recession (articulated yesterday by Larry Elliott) but the stridency of the newspaper's coverage in the last week (particularly on Europe and against George Osborne) has been surprising.  When the newspaper relaunched in Berliner format it set out to become the newspaper of the establishment - rivalling The Times.  Chris Patten wrote for the first edition of the reformatted paper and Max Hastings (now gone) and Simon Jenkins were recruited as columnists.  The Guardian is no slave of the Labour leadership (its columnists are almost all anti-Brown) but the last week may be a taste of the relationship that the Conservative Party might expect from The Guardian if it comes to power - and a sign that the newspaper is no longer pursuing its establishment ambition.

Tim Montgomerie 


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