Conservative Diary

Fleet Street

17 Jul 2013 10:34:18

The Daily Mail launches a sustained attack on Labour

By Tim Montgomerie
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There have been many occasions in recent times when the Daily Mail has given the Tories a good kicking. Craig Oliver will have been wearing a big smile when he opened the paper today, however...


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4 Jul 2013 06:16:15

Downing Street won't like the changes at the Times

Screen shot 2013-07-02 at 08.45.46
By Paul Goodman

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Roughly a month after Tim Montgomerie became Comment Editor of the Times, the paper carried a comment piece by Lord Lawson declaring that Britain should leave the EU.  Lawson thus became the first former Chancellor of the Exchequer to come out for quitting (if one discounts the tentative recent intervention of Denis Healey), and nudged the centre of gravity of opinion within the Conservative Party a little nearer the exit-door.  Lawson's piece was followed by another in the same vein from Michael Portillo - and, for the rest of the week, the Times kept it up, transforming its comment pages into a carnival of withdrawal-ness.

Downing Street will have prised open the paper each morning that week with a sense of foreboding.  What on earth was happening to what had been - under the paper's previous editor, James Harding - the Conservative leadership's last friend in Fleet Street?  Finding an answer entails glancing back at the history of the paper since Rupert Murdoch took it over during the 1980s, at the tension between his outsider's view of the world and the Times's insider one - at least in the sense of it being both the paper of record and that of the Establishment.  (I think that last term is out of date - but that's another story.)

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23 Mar 2013 09:01:51

The traditional centre right press has probably been lost to the Tories. Forever.

By Tim Montgomerie
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Some think that newspapers don't matter much anymore. One of those people was once David Cameron. He was elected Tory leader without the support of a single traditional centre right newspaper. He stormed to victory over David Davis because TV's Tom Bradby and Nick Robinson - the long-serving political editors of ITN and the BBC - gave his 2005 speech to the Blackpool Conference such heady write ups. Number 10 do not disregard the press quite so much today. They still think broadcast is dominant but they know that newspapers have played an important part in creating discontent on the Right of politics. They've also understood that the newspapers are an important part of the media food chain. Broadcast journalists often take their lead from newspaper investigative reporting, exclusives and columnists. Readership of newspapers is declining but it's also changing. Some newspapers are investing heavily in digital and hope to prosper in a coming age when it will be hard to distinguish between the TV in your sitting room and the portable communications device in your ruck sack. In this age it will be hard to distinguish between a newspaper and broadcaster.

That, however, is for the future (albeit not-so-distant). The immediate future as far as Cameron is concerned is 2015. An endorsement from the five traditional centre-right-ish daily newspapers on the eve of election day would be useful but what he really needs them to do is to change gear soon, if not now. He needs them to stop attacking his administration over the next 18 to 24 months and start attacking Ed Miliband.

TelegraphLooking back over the last few days Fleet Street has provided him with mixed signals. The newspapers have certainly increased their attacks on Labour. The Mail - after likening George Osborne to Margaret Thatcher- has unleashed both Max Hastings and Simon Heffer against Ed Miliband since Wednesday. Today's Times (£) has questioned whether Ed Miliband has any kind of economic plan. The Sun has noted the unpopularity of Ed Balls. The Express has, perhaps, been most positive of them all, choosing "Cheers! Budget Boost For Millions" as its Thursday frontpage. Overall, however, the newspapers remain suspicious of Cameron - and in the week that he largely surrendered on Leveson you can easily understand why. The Mail has ran repeated hard-hitting stories on what it sees as the Coalition's unfair policies towards stay-at-home parents. The Telegraph has run four successive front page stories worrying about the childcare policy, a "housing boom", the Coalition's "war on the countryside" and, today, further cuts to the police and armed forces (see side image).

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19 Mar 2013 08:12:36

Will the press feel that it can ever rely on Cameron again?

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                                                    Graphic above from today's Daily Mail

By Paul Goodman
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Towards the end of last week, David Cameron broke off talks with Nick Clegg and David Miliband over press regulation.  Over the weekend, he resumed them.  Yesterday, he joined the two other party leaders to propose a scheme to the Commons.  There are only two ways of intepreting his actions.  The first is that the Prime Minister always intended to cut a deal with Clegg and Miliband, that his main aim throughout the talks has been to avoid defeat in the Commons, and that his ending of them was a gambit which sought to squeeze as many concessions out of them as possible.  The second is that he braced himself to go down to defeat last week, exasperated by Clegg and Miliband's behaviour, but changed his mind over the weekend.

He had reasons to take either course.  Sticking to his guns and going down to defeat in the Commons could have won him the praise of the centre-right papers, and of the part of his party that has always been uneasy about statutory regulation.  However, there was a risk that any goodwill won from those papers would be short-lived, and that being beaten in the lobbies would have weakened his position further.  Restarting the talks and agreeing a deal instead has avoided that Commons defeat - a mere fourteen Conservative MPs rebelled - and enabled Mr Cameron to claim, truthfully enough, that the regulation he agreed with Clegg and Miliband was less restrictive than that they'd have proposed (and seen passed) if left to their own devices.

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15 Mar 2013 06:37:34

Cameron's strong move on Leveson exposes his growing weakness

By Paul Goodman
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  • Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 05.22.51David Cameron could have ended his talks with Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, and refused to put his proposals to a vote in the Commons at all.  If he had done so, however, Labour and the Liberal Democrats would have moved amendments seeking statutory regulation of the press to the Crime and Courts Bill for debate on Monday - as they're apparently planning to do in any event.
  • The Prime Minister could then have withdrawn the entire bill, rather than allow statutory regulation to take place.  However, Clegg and Miliband would doubtless then have sought to amend another bill to the same effect.  Cameron would then have had to withdraw that bill to avoid statutory regulation - and so on.  The Government he leads would have been paralysed.  By lining up with Miliband on statutory regulation, Clegg has clapped a loaded gun to the Prime Minister's head.

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24 Jan 2013 08:02:52

David Cameron will enjoy this morning's newspapers

By Tim Montgomerie
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Yesterday I argued that Cameron's Europe speech would bring four benefits to the Conservative Party. One of those benefits was a better relationship with the centre right press. There's plenty of evidence of that this morning. Here are key quotes from Britain's five centre right/ Eurosceptic newspapers:

  • Daily Mail: "This was an historic day, which could yet mark a turning point in this country’s relationship with the EU. For the first time in the 25 years since Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech, a British Prime Minister openly called into question the founders’ ambition to forge an ‘ever closer union’ among the peoples of Europe."
  • The Telegraph: "Many of the arguments in yesterday’s speech were made in another keynote address, delivered by Margaret Thatcher in Bruges in 1988. She, too, bemoaned Europe’s insularity, its lack of accountability, its drift towards federalism, all of which have accelerated since. What even she did not offer, however, was to let the people decide whether they wanted to stay in. In proposing that they should, Mr Cameron has taken an audacious and momentous step, and one deserving of the highest praise."
  • The Express: "This newspaper has had its criticisms of the Prime Minister and would much prefer the in/out referendum to take place before the next election rather than two years after it. But nobody should deny that yesterday David Cameron did something genuinely bold. The question that many non-aligned voters will be asking themselves between now and polling day is why on earth they should trade in a Prime Minister who has shown high-level leadership qualities for an Opposition leader who has not? The fact is that Miliband isn’t even up to the job he’s got, let alone the post he aspires to fill."
  • The Sun: "WHO should decide Britain’s future in Europe? David Cameron finally answered the question yesterday and promised us a referendum. He was immediately condemned by Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Europhile grandees like Tony Blair. They do not want the people to have their say. It wouldn’t be in the national interest, they claim. But the truth is they do not trust us to come up with the “right” answer. Mr Cameron, by contrast, said the people must decide."
  • The Times (£): "Mr Cameron is correct that the EU has become bloated and inflexible in a global marketplace where the penalties for such failings have grown, and that newly emerging nations will leave the European economies behind unless there is change. This was a speech with Europe’s interests at heart, not only Britain’s; and framing his argument in such a way gives the Prime Minister a chance of building an alliance inside the EU."

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6 Jan 2013 16:58:32

Boris is (again) GQ's most influential man in Britain (and nine other things you need to know about its list of top 100 men)

By Tim Montgomerie
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Cover boy - Boris sporting a very nice silk and patriotic handkerchief in his suit pocket.

It's that time of year again when GQ names the one hundred most influential men in Britain. I've read it so you don't have to. In no particular order of importance (or silliness) here are ten observations on the list...

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20 Dec 2012 07:17:08

Apparently Tory backbenchers rather than the Tory leadership are responsible for the party's difficulties

By Tim Montgomerie
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It's blame-and-bash-b-b-b-b-backbenchers week on Fleet Street. Matthew Parris kicked it off last Saturday with his attack (£) on the "spittle-flecked" "Rabid Right". Ian Birrell joined in in yesterday's Evening Standard. And in today's Telegraph Peter Oborne throws his keyboard at lots of Tory MPs with surnames beginning with 'B'...

"The backbench rebels (an unfeasibly large number of whom have surnames which begin with the letter B – Binley, Bray, Burns, Baker, Baron, Bingham, Bone, Bridgen, Burley, Bebb, Blackman, Blackwood, Brady, Brazier, Brine, Byles) appear to have fallen for the illusion that if only the Conservatives move sharply to the Right before the next election, all will be well and a tremendous victory will be won."

In reality a good number of Mr Oborne's Bs are largely very loyal to the Tory leadership but it's not so much fun to let facts get in the way of a bit of alliteration.

The traditional Right is not perfect. ConHome recently ran a series on some of its failures. I recently admitted some of my own errors. What would be dangerous, however, would be for this bash-the-Right Fleet Street narrative to also become the dominant mindset within the Tory leadership (if it isn't already).

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6 Dec 2012 08:37:38

Osborne gets a good press this morning but Britain is in serious economic trouble

By Tim Montgomerie
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There may be a Leveson effect but the Chancellor will nonetheless be pleased with today's newspaper frontpages and the warm noises made by the country's three biggest centre right newspapers:

  • "Mr Osborne has played a difficult hand with some considerable skill. And after Ed Balls’s truly atrocious performance yesterday, the Chancellor has proved himself an infinitely safer guardian of our nation’s future than  the alternative." - Daily Mail leader
  • The Sun Says: "After the disasters of Mr Osborne’s earlier “pasty tax” Budget, this was a genuine attempt to be more in tune with ordinary voters. Curbing benefits while lifting more of the low-paid out of tax is a welcome step towards righting the imbalance between work and welfare."
  • The Autumn Statement strikes a difficult balance between what needs to be done and what the public will accept - The Telegraph

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29 Nov 2012 13:23:03

Rolling blog on the release of the Leveson Report

6pm Before we close this rolling blog, it’s worth highlighting the passage from the Leveson Report saying there is “no evidence” that Jeremy Hunt was biased when overseeing News Corp’s bid for BskyB. Here’s how it reads in the Executive Summary, with the key line in bold:

“The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP also had strong views as to the merits of the bid. He too was entitled to have these, if for no other reason that media policy fell within his DCMS portfolio. The transfer to Mr Hunt was a decision the Prime Minister was fully entitled to make. In these circumstances the bid came to DCMS and its Secretary of State in a crisis not of their making.

Mr Hunt immediately put in place robust systems to ensure that the remaining stages of the bid would be handled with fairness, impartiality and transparency, all in line with his quasi-judicial obligations. His extensive reliance on external advice, above and beyond the minimum required, was a wise and effective means of helping him to keep to the statutory test and to engender confidence that an objective decision would be taken.

In every respect bar one, the bid was commendably handled. Unfortunately, there was a serious hidden problem which, had the bid ultimately gone through and that problem come out, would have had the potential to jeopardise it altogether. Mr Hunt’s Special Adviser, Adam Smith, was the known point of contact between DCMS and News Corp’s professional lobbyist, Frédéric Michel. Mr Smith already knew Mr Michel, and, when faced with the intimacy, charm, volume and persistence of Mr Michel’s approaches, he was put in an extremely difficult position. The processes that were put in place to manage the bid did not prove to be robust enough in this particular respect. Best practice of the kind subsequently encapsulated in the Cabinet Office guidance on quasi-judicial decision-making was not followed.

I have concluded that the seeds of this problem were sown at an early stage, and that the risks were, or should have been, obvious from the outset. I doubt the wisdom of appointing Mr Smith to this role. The consequential risks were then compounded by the cumulative effects of the lack of explicit clarity in Mr Smith’s role, the lack of express instruction that it was clear that he fully understood, and a lack of supervision by Mr Hunt.

I have concluded that there is no credible evidence of actual bias on the part of Mr Hunt. However, the voluminous exchanges between Mr Michel and Mr Smith, in the circumstances, give rise to a perception of bias. The fact that they were conducted informally, and off the departmental record, are an additional cause for concern.”

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