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9/10 Rebooting Project Cameron: Repairing relations with hostile centre right newspapers

By Tim Montgomerie
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The daily newslinks are the bread and potatoes of ConHome. Every morning that I'm on duty I start looking at the papers from about 5.30am. One of the big things that has been noticeable in recent weeks is a further deterioration in how the Big Four centre right newspapers* are covering the Coalition...


  • The Sun is unhappy with the Coalition on defence - especially the military covenant and Afghanistan, crime, immigration petrol tax, trade unions and Europe. Last week it mocked Cameron up as Neville Chamberlain. Ouch. It is one of the more interesting changes on Fleet Street that The Sun isn't showing the same loyalty to Cameron that it showed to Thatcher and Blair when it had endorsed them. Perhaps that's a function of the Coalition. Perhaps it's a reflection of Murdoch's unhappiness with Cameron. Whatever the truth, the newspages of Britain's best-selling daily are as likely to be critical of the government as positive.
  • The Telegraph is unhappy on defence, Europe, regulation of the City, the 50p tax, HS2 and planning reform. It now posseses a formidable line of political columnists across its daily and Sunday titles. Boris Johnson on Monday, Mary Riddell on Tuesday, Benedict Brogan on Wednesday, Peter Oborne on Thursday, Fraser Nelson on Friday, Charles Moore on Saturday and Janet Daley and Matthew d'Ancona on Saturday. Amazingly only one - d'Ancona - could be said to be reliably pro-Cameron. Telegraph blogs are not as critical as they once were but still, on balance, negative.
  • The Mail's complaints against the Coalition include Europe (inevitably) but also crime, overseas aid, the family and, interestingly of late, climate change and green taxes. Last week it joined with The Sun to push MigrationWatch's ePetition calling for stricter immigration controls. RightMinds, the new comment section of the paper, has recruited voices who are definitely to the right of Cameron. The Mail's new Saturday political columnist is Simon Heffer. Enough said.
  • The Express is seemingly unhappy about everything the Coalition is doing but especially human rights laws and Europe. Its lead political columnist, Patrick O'Flynn, is - shall we say - adversarial in his view of the Coalition.

In a list of the Coalition's vulnerabilities this hostility must be in the top three.

The Coalition gets fairer treatment at The Times, Economist (Janan Ganesh) Spectator (especially from Pete Hoskin) but "Fleet Street" is overall inhospitable to Project Cameron. Only Bruce Anderson on these pages, Danny Finkelstein and increasingly Matthew Parris at The Times and, as already mentioned, Matthew d'Ancona are boosters of the administration.

Between Andy Coulson leaving and Craig Oliver being appointed I made recommendations about how this media relations might be improved. See here and here. Sadly the points made then about a lack of strategic messaging, inadequate cultivation of lead commentators, long periods of silence, over-reliance on George Osborne and poor use of third party communicators all stand.

> The tenth and final instalment of this Rebooting series will be posted at 7.30pm: The big message

* I don't include The Times as a centre right newspaper. That might be a mistake but I see it more as a Blairite newspaper with significant SDP and Eurosceptic influences.


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