Magazine article The Spectator

'We're Going to Expose,' Said the Labour Spin Doctor to the Man from the Last Loyal Tory Paper

Magazine article The Spectator

'We're Going to Expose,' Said the Labour Spin Doctor to the Man from the Last Loyal Tory Paper

Article excerpt

The Labour party has squared the rightwing press-- almost. Rupert Murdoch's Sun is safely on board, and the Times will at least not be hostile. Come the day, it may even support New Labour. All that cultivation of Mr Murdoch has paid dividends. As for the Daily Express, it will not be unfriendly. Its chief executive, Clive Hollick, is a Labour peer and something of a mate of Tony Blair, as he was of Neil Kinnock before him.

None of Lord Rothermere's newspapers has yet endorsed Mr Blair, though the London Evening Standard may well do so. It is unlikely that the Daily Mail, the most important one, will heap much, if any, manure on the Labour party. Mr Blair's lunches and dinners with Lord Rothermere and his editors have worked splendidly. His Lordship apparently prefers him to John Major. He travels often between his home in Paris and London and, being a great dog-lover, he is cross with the Tories for not doing more to relax the rabies laws.

But there remains one paper, the Daily Telegraph, which steadfastly refuses to flirt with Mr Blair. (I must here declare an interest as a columnist for the Telegraph.) The newspaper's support for the Conservative party is cause for some surprise, as well as disappointment, among Labour's apparatchiks. Now there is evidence that disappointment has turned to anger. Last week Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's press secretary, referred to Robert Shrimsley, the Daily Telegraph's political correspondent, as `Mr Stoogely' during a Labour party briefing. This was not the first time that a Labour apparatchik has picked on a senior Telegraph journalist in public.

Last November Peter Mandelson, Labour's `Prince of Darkness', remarked, `Here comes George Jones, straight from Conservative Central Office,' when Mr Jones walked into a Labour party briefing. The explanation for Mr Mandelson's rudeness was that Mr Jones, the Telegraph's political editor, had that morning written a story about a new Tory document alleging that Labour had made promises which, if implemented, would cost 30 billion. This Tory claim may have been a piece of baloney, but Mr Jones was doing no less than his duty in reporting it. He walked out of the briefing.

To understand Labour's increasingly vitriolic attitude towards the Daily Telegraph it is necessary to delve into its relations with right-wing journalists over the past two or three years. When Alastair Campbell was appointed to his job in 1994 he was on friendly terms with a number of prominent right-wing journalists. He realised that some of them were more than a little fed up with John Major and the government.

His strategy was to form an alliance with some of these people who, in their own way, wanted to get Mr Major out every bit as much as Mr Campbell and his boss, Mr Blair, did.

One can think of some right-wing journalists who have not disappointed Mr Campbell's hopes. Simon Heffer, the Daily Mail's resident bower boy and perpetual scourge of John Major, is perhaps the most notable example. He never wavers in his contempt. It seems that for a time Mr Campbell hoped that Charles Moore, in 1994 editor of the Sunday Telegraph but now at the helm of the Daily Telegraph, would also be a dependable partner in any anti-Major alliance. At the time of the Tory leadership contest in July 1995, Mr Moore stated clearly that it was time for Mr Major to pack his bags and go. …

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