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 is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

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