The cosy relationship between the PM and NI

Half of Cameron's first dozen media contacts after the election were with News International.

As promised, the Cabinet Office has released a list of all editors, proprietors and journalists to meet David Cameron since May 2010. (It can be found here as a PDF.)

The list makes for interesting reading. Rupert Murdoch was the first press baron Cameron met after the election, followed by the Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre. That month, the Prime Minister also hosted Lord (Terry) Burns of Channel 4 and Deborah Turness of ITV News at his country retreat, Chequers.

The first four meetings of the next month, June, are all with News International journalists - first, Rebekah Brooks comes to Chequers, then Cameron has a "general discussion" with Sun editor Dominic Mohan. He later attends the News International summer party, and gives an interview to Times editor James Harding.

There's a brief respite with the next entry, a general discussion with Evening Standard editor Geordie Greig, before Cameron attends the Times CEO summit in London. (The text of his speech can be found here.)

He then rounds off June with a visit to the FT mid-summer party, and begins July with the Spectator summer party.

There are two key points to take away from the list. The first is that of the 12 media contacts Cameron had in the first two months of his premiership, six of them were with News International.

The second interesting piece of information is who was invited to Chequers. This being the PM's country home, it must be assumed that an invitation there means that Cameron is closer to you than if you had simply been granted a "general discussion".

The Chequers invitees are:

  • May 2010 Lord Burns, Channel 4
  • May 2010 Deborah Turness, ITV News
  • July 2010 Lord Rothermere, Daily Mail owner
  • August 2010 Rebekah Brooks, News International
  • November 2010 James Murdoch, News International

Although there are no details of the infamous "Christmas dinner" of Rebekah Brooks, James Murdoch and Cameron, it is worth noting that two separate "social" meetings are listed for December 2010. One is with Murdoch and Brooks; the other with Brooks alone.

Cameron's March 2011 hosting of Andy Coulson at Chequers - which, according to the Guardian, he paid for from his own pocket - is not included in the list as Coulson was not a working journalist at the time.

One final point: as BBC business journalist Joe Lynam points out, the list does not include a single BBC journalist or executive.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.