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?

Version 1


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.

Version 2


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.

Photo: Getty Images
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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 (all of which he denies), 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 reported in the 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.