Challenges for the new Sun editor

What's in Dominic Mohan's in-tray

As had been widely anticipated, News International today named Dominic Mohan as the new editor of the Sun. Mohan, currently the paper's deputy editor, will replace Rebekah Brooks (formerly Wade), who will shortly take up her new position as chief executive of News International.

One of the central challenges for Mohan will be to establish the paper's political line ahead of the general election. As I've previously noted, the Sun is now almost certain to defect to the Conservatives at the next election. The paper's support for the Tories in the European election and their endorsement of Boris Johnson last year suggests we won't be seeing red smoke emerge from the Sun's Wapping HQ again.

Mohan is not known as a political animal but if Rupert Murdoch (and it will be him) gives the nod to David Cameron, it may be up to Mohan to determine whether the Sun attacks Cameron from the right (on immigration, tax and crime) or evolves into a more liberal creature.

On the business level, now Murdoch has declared that he intends to charge for all his news websites by next summer, Mohan will be responsible for providing the celebrity scoops that the News Corp head believes users will pay for.

Murdoch's UK newspaper empire is more dependent than ever on the Sun for profits, with both the Times and the Sunday Times losing millions in advertising revenue.

The Sun's circulation decline (down 0.4 per cent year-on-year) has been mild compared to some, but this has been achieved in part through an aggressive price war (in many areas the paper retails at just 20p) that may prove unsustainable.

Mohan can take comfort in the support of a proprietor who is committed to rescuing the printed press for the 21st century and who is redirecting resources to his core assets.

The imminent closure of the London Paper and the sale of the neoconservative magazine the Weekly Standard demonstrate that Murdoch is prepared to act ruthlessly to protect his most renowned titles. It will now be up to Mohan to prove that such faith has been well placed.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.