Pro-Cameron Times changes headline to suit the Tories

Headline declaring: “Cameron risks backlash with early talk of victory” is scrapped.

After endorsing the Conservatives at the weekend, one would expect the Times to be keen to minimise damaging stories about David Cameron. So imagine the media's surprise when, at 10.20 last night, the next day's front page was sent to them with the headline "Cameron risks backlash with early talk of victory".

The story appeared to encourage the idea that the Tory leader, a man used to getting his own way, is already measuring the curtains for No 10. With the polls still pointing to a hung parliament, surely the Tories could expect a little more support from the Murdoch-owned paper?

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Well, clearly someone at Wapping thought better of it, because just 45 minutes later a new version was emailed out with the rather bland, neutral-sounding headline: "Cameron outlines plans for first days in power".

That striking claim, "Cameron risks backlash with early talk of victory", was still there but it had been relegated to the standfirst.

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This isn't the first time that the Times has been caught out by its indecision. After the second leaders' debate on TV, the paper featured a picture of Cameron and Nick Clegg with the headline "Neck and neck". But, after a revised version of the paper's Populus poll put Cameron just a point ahead, the headline had metamorphosed into "Cameron nicks it".

Some will no doubt imagine that James Murdoch or Rebekah Brooks (old Rupe is occupied with the Wall Street Journal these days) put in a call to the paper to demand the revision. But here's the point: they probably didn't need to. Successful Murdoch editors usually internalise the prejudices of their proprietor to the degree that no intervention is required.

As the thoughtful former Sun editor David Yelland remarked in a recent interview:

[Y]ou don't admit to yourself that you're being influenced. Most Murdoch editors wake up in the morning, switch on the radio, hear that something has happened and think, 'What would Rupert think about this?' It's like a mantra inside your head. It's like a prism. You look at the world through Rupert's eyes.

Either way, the second favourable headline change for the Tories in less than a month begins to raise natural suspicions.

Hat-tip: PoliticsHome.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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.

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