Magazine article The Spectator

If Mr Major Ruled out EMU, the Tabloids Would Back Him Hammer and Tongs

Magazine article The Spectator

If Mr Major Ruled out EMU, the Tabloids Would Back Him Hammer and Tongs

Article excerpt

Charles Lewington, the Tories' communications chief, has written an article in the Sunday Telegraph suggesting that the BBC is gunning for his party. I think he misses the point. I agree that most BBC journalists, like their newspaper brethren, are mildly left of centre. But their own sense of professional etiquette, not to mention the restraints imposed upon them by their bosses, usually combine to produce something approximating to objectivity. There may be a very slight pro-Labour bias in BBC reporting during the election, but I would be surprised if it made much difference to Tory fortunes.

Mr Lewington should be addressing his complaints instead to the editors of supposedly Tory newspapers. Even at this late stage they show little sign of rallying to the Conservatives, and this loss of traditional support will probably damage the Tories far more than anything the BBC might get up to. After the awful Wirral South by-election result, and Stephen Dorrell's somersault over Europe, some Tory titles have almost given up on John Major. The Sun has declared that `the tide has turned' and `the Tories will be stranded like a beached whale'. The Daily Mail was only slightly less apocalyptic. The Daily Express was a bit sunnier. The Times saw little hope for a Government `manifestly less than the sum of its parts'. Only the Daily Telegraph argued with any conviction that the significance of by-elections is often exaggerated.

With less than two months to go until Dday, it is now possible to make an educated guess about how these Tory titles are going to conduct themselves. The Sun has apparently passed the point of no return. It continually expresses its dissatisfaction with Labour, but the Tories constantly drive the paper to despair. Only a clear statement by Mr Major ruling out monetary union in 1999 could win it back to the Conservative cause. As things stand, the Sun will grumble throughout the campaign. It believes that the Tories have had it, and so will be unable to rouse itself to give them any kind of last minute push.

The Daily Express cannot resist the occasional dig at Tony Blair but then its editor Richard Addis remembers that his boss, Lord Hollick, has given a pledge to his friend the Labour leader that there won't be any knocking copy. I expect the paper will give a lukewarm endorsement to the Tories. The Daily Mail, though in its heart deeply disapproving of the Government, may raise a slightly louder cheer at the final whistle. One gets the feeling that Paul Dacre, the paper's editor, is torn. He has an atavistic hatred for Labour, but he despises the Tories. Mr Major should not count on much of a boost.

As for the broadsheets, the Times is not unfriendly towards New Labour. One of the party's eminences, Tessa Blackstone, has recently been inflicted on readers as a columnist. The paper's editorials sometimes judiciously praise Mr Blair. When it comes to it, the Times will probably support Mr Major, though without fervour. The Daily Telegraph, by contrast, is safely on side. It manages to criticise the Government on issue after issue - particularly Europe -- while exuding a sense of general loyalty. More than any other paper except perhaps the Mail, the Telegraph feels a deep aversion for New Labour, and so finally always returns to the Tory camp.

But the Telegraph is not single-handedly going to win the election for the Tories. …

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