Chattering class obsession or the shame of Britain?

Sharply divergent views on the hacking scandal from the <em> Mail </em> and the <em> Telegraph</em>.

The country's two main right-wing newspapers, the Telegraph and Daily Mail, have taken very different editorial lines on the phone-hacking scandal and the crisis in Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

As several commentators have noted on Twitter, the Daily Telegraph's leader today is in thundering form, calling hacking "a scandal that has diminished Britain". It excoriates Rebekah Brooks, David Cameron, Rupert Murdoch and the Metropolitan police.

After the revelations of the past week, the whole world has learned the shameful truth about modern Britain: that its leading politicians and policemen have been lining up to have their palms greased and images burnished by executives of a media empire guilty of deeply criminal - and morally repugnant - invasions of personal privacy. . .

David Cameron should have dismantled this quasi-masonic circle, with its conspiratorial deal-cutting and back-scratching. Instead, encouraged by George Osborne, he invited the circle into Downing Street, giving Mr Coulson an undeserved second chance. Mr Cameron is paying the price for this and other cynical moves. At a time when he is supposed to be navigating Britain through both the domestic and global debt crises, the Prime Minister is desperately trying to align himself with public opinion and distance himself from the News International scandal. Government has given way to the shallowest form of crisis management.

The Mail, however, considers phone-hacking to be a diversion from "the real problems facing Britain" - the financial problems in the Eurozone, the worries over the US's credit rating, soaring fuel prices at home. In Friday's leader, it declaimed:

In a sane world, politicians would be working round the clock to help rectify these dire problems. But sadly, they are far too busy enjoying a frenzy of vengeful score-settling against the Murdoch press.
Even though the News of the World has been closed, the BSkyB takeover bid withdrawn, and Rupert Murdoch has promised to co-operate with the judicial inquiries, the bloodlust - orchestrated by a vastly subsidised BBC - continues.

. . . The stink of schadenfreude from Britain's chattering classes is overpowering.

It remains to be seen who is most in touch with the public mood on this.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.