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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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