Cameron's hypocrisy on the tabloids

Tory leader chides Mirror for lack of "independence" but welcomes the Sun's backing

All this week, the Daily Mirror has been running a series on Tory finances, including the revelation that the shadow cabinet stands to make £7.1m from David Cameron's plan to cut inheritance tax.

On Wednesday the Tory leader was doorstepped by a Mirror reporter seeking a response. Cameron's comment: "I have no idea what's in the Mirror, but maybe you should try writing for an independent newspaper."

One knows what he means; on occasion I have referred to the Mirror as "the Labour Pravda". But what alternative paper would Cameron suggest for a tabloid hack? Perhaps the non-partisan Sun? Or the fair-minded Daily Mail?

Cameron hasn't previously suggested that papers should remain politically neutral. On the contrary, the morning the Tories were endorsed by the Sun, he told the BBC:

I want to have the widest possible, broadest possible coalition for change, so obviously I welcome any newspaper or business or media organisation that comes on and says the Conservatives have got the right ideas.

You can't call for papers to come out in favour of the Conservative Party and then attack those that don't for lacking political independence.

It was similarly foolish of New Labour apparatchiks to denounce the Sun as a "Tory fanzine" after they had welcomed the red-top's support for years.

Both parties should be far more willing than they are to defend the press's freedom to take political stances. That UK papers are partisan and opinionated is one of the reasons they have fared better than their staid US counterparts. Politicians should recognise the value of this, even when it works against them.

 

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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.