Magazine article The Spectator

The Telegraph Made Iain Duncan Smith. Will It Break Him?

Magazine article The Spectator

The Telegraph Made Iain Duncan Smith. Will It Break Him?

Article excerpt

MEDIA STUDIES

To say that the Daily Telegraph has the same relationship to the Tory party as Pravda once did to the Soviet Communist party would be a bit of an exaggeration. There are some sections of the Tory party which the Telegraph does not like, and there are some sections in the Tory party which do not like the Telegraph. There is little love lost between the newspaper on the one hand and either Kenneth Clarke or Michael Portillo on the other. Nonetheless, when the Telegraph makes ex cathedra judgments about the Tory party, many Conservatives listen. Never is this more true than when there is a leadership contest in prospect.

The Telegraph warmly embraced lain Duncan Smith when he stood for the leadership in the summer of 2001. Charles Moore, the paper's editor, had long admired and liked him. IDS shared the Telegraph's politics: Eurosceptic, pro-American, strongly unionist as regards Northern Ireland, in favour of low taxes, and a good family man. It did not at all undermine the esteem in which he was held that he appeared to be decent and gentlemanly. The paper urged first Tory MPs and then the wider constituency of party members to vote for lain Duncan Smith. Most of its columnists swung behind him. Dean Godson, who as chief ideologist occupies the same role in the Telegraph as Suslov once did in the Soviet Central Committee, gave IDS his imprimatur. When lain Duncan Smith triumphed in September 2001, the paper declared that 'a chapter of strife and bitterness in Tory history can now close'. It might be too much to say that the Daily Telegraph won the leadership for IDS, but it is difficult to see how he could have got it without the paper's backing.

The Telegraph still supports lain Duncan Smith. It has not yet turned on him as it did on Ted Heath after the 1974 election. But the enthusiasm has gone, the love has waned. It is not easy to put one's finger on the moment that doubts first crept in. Perhaps it was at last autumn's party conference, when IDS associated himself with Theresa May's extraordinary description of the Tories as `the nasty party'. (The columnist Janet Daley, previously one of IDS's cheerleaders on the paper, rapped his knuckles at the time.) Perhaps it was after lain Duncan Smith's somewhat melodramatic invitation to the party last November to `unite or die'. (A leading article of almost suicidal depression ended with the words, `Yesterday was the most desperate day in the history of the Conservative party.') Around that time, one of its columnists, Tom Utley, broke ranks and confided that he was fed up with having to defend IDS out of a sense of duty. At the end of the year the Telegraph reflected, not unjustly, that `it is clear that lain Duncan Smith - and not Tony Blair - will end the year mired in gloom'. The editorial concluded with words - whether penned by Mr Moore or Suslov, I do not know - which will not have brought much New Year cheer to the heart of the Tory leader: `The public will continue to wonder what the party stands for under lain Duncan Smith.'

The Telegraph seems partly exasperated by IDS's lack of leadership qualities (a stronger leader would find it easier to shrug off such attacks', it observed on Monday) and partly depressed by his tendency to back away from some of the policies which, in its view, justified his election as leader. What strikes the reader as much as the paper's chiding is its reluctance to offer strong support to a man who is undoubtedly on his uppers. …

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