The Murdoch press won't back Labour. Will anyone?

As News International's titles prepare to defect, Brown can only count on the support of the Mirror

It has been clear for some time that the Murdoch press, so assiduously courted by New Labour, will throw its weight behind the Conservatives at the next election.

The Sun and the Times's support for the Tories in last month's European elections and their endorsement of Boris Johnson as London mayor last year suggests that both are preparing to abandon Labour at the general election for the first time since 1992.

Andrew Neil, the former editor of the Sunday Times, who worked alongside Rupert Murdoch for many years, has argued that the government's more redistributive approach means there is "no doubt" that News International's titles will endorse the Conservatives.

In addition, the Daily Telegraph's Christopher Hope recently reported that the fierce criticism of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson by the Guardian over the phone-hacking scandal had persuaded Murdoch to back Coulson's new boss, David Cameron, at the next election.

The News Corporation head and his ideological guru, Irwin Stelzer, were initially sceptical of Cameron and attracted to Gordon Brown. Both were impressed by Brown's intellect, his work ethic and his religious commitment.

Murdoch, a strong opponent of monarchy and aristocracy, and nostalgic for the days when Margaret Thatcher's cabinet contained "more old Estonians than old Etonians", was also reluctant to support a man with a background as privileged as Cameron's.

As John Rentoul writes in his column today:

One thing Rupert and James (Murdoch) do seem to share is an anti-establishment mentality, a resentment against British snobbery directed against their family business: they have no affinity for someone of Cameron's background.

But as Brown's woes have multiplied such doubts appear to have been buried.

There are those who argue that newspaper endorsements are of little consequence; fewer people are reading papers and few have ever read the leaders in which endorsements are made.

Yet crucially such editorial judgements come to shape a paper's general news coverage, as embarrassing stories are amplified or diminished accordingly. The winning party can also count on a fair hearing from the relevant titles once in government. In this regard, it must be a matter of some concern to Brown's aides that Labour appears to be losing the support of much of Fleet Street .

Besides the News International titles, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express (which rescinded its support for New Labour in 2005) can naturally be relied upon to rally behind Cameron, while Brown's famously warm relationship with Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, has failed to deter that paper's increasingly visceral attacks on Labour.

The Financial Times, which has backed Labour since the 1992 election, is known to be prepared to support the Tories but as the most Europhile title on Fleet Street its anger over Cameron's fierce Euroscepticism may yet prevent such a defection.

The Guardian cannot credibly endorse Labour so long as Brown remains leader, having called on the party to force him out. There is even less chance of an endorsement from the Independent, which is likely to call for a hung parliament or support the Liberal Democrats.

Only the Daily Mirror can be relied upon to offer Labour unambiguous support at the next election.

The migration of the press towards the Tories is likely to become more, not less, explicit as the election draws closer. The left may have been resigned to right-wing dominance of the media for decades but even so, the flight of the press from Labour can only further damage the morale of an increasingly desperate party.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May's "clean Brexit" is hard Brexit with better PR

The Prime Minister's objectives point to the hardest of exits from the European Union. 

Theresa May will outline her approach to Britain’s Brexit deal in a much-hyped speech later today, with a 12-point plan for Brexit.

The headlines: her vow that Britain will not be “half in, half out” and border control will come before our membership of the single market.

And the PM will unveil a new flavour of Brexit: not hard, not soft, but “clean” aka hard but with better PR.

“Britain's clean break from EU” is the i’s splash, “My 12-point plan for Brexit” is the Telegraph’s, “We Will Get Clean Break From EU” cheers the Express, “Theresa’s New Free Britain” roars the Mail, “May: We’ll Go It Alone With CLEAN Brexit” is the Metro’s take. The Guardian goes for the somewhat more subdued “May rules out UK staying in single market” as their splash while the Sun opts for “Great Brexpectations”.

You might, at this point, be grappling with a sense of déjà vu. May’s new approach to the Brexit talks is pretty much what you’d expect from what she’s said since getting the keys to Downing Street, as I wrote back in October. Neither of her stated red lines, on border control or freeing British law from the European Court of Justice, can be met without taking Britain out of the single market aka a hard Brexit in old money.

What is new is the language on the customs union, the only area where May has actually been sparing on detail. The speech will make it clear that after Brexit, Britain will want to strike its own trade deals, which means that either an unlikely exemption will be carved out, or, more likely, that the United Kingdom will be out of the European Union, the single market and the customs union.

(As an aside, another good steer about the customs union can be found in today’s row between Boris Johnson and the other foreign ministers of the EU27. He is under fire for vetoing an EU statement in support of a two-state solution, reputedly to curry favour with Donald Trump. It would be strange if Downing Street was shredding decades of British policy on the Middle East to appease the President-Elect if we weren’t going to leave the customs union in order at the end of it.)

But what really matters isn’t what May says today but what happens around Europe over the next few months. Donald Trump’s attacks on the EU and Nato yesterday will increase the incentive on the part of the EU27 to put securing the political project front-and-centre in the Brexit talks, making a good deal for Britain significantly less likely.

Add that to the unforced errors on the part of the British government, like Amber Rudd’s wheeze to compile lists of foreign workers, and the diplomatic situation is not what you would wish to secure the best Brexit deal, to put it mildly.

Clean Brexit? Nah. It’s going to get messy. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.