Magazine article The Spectator

Why Peter Mandelson Put in a Call to the Editor of the Daily Telegraph

Magazine article The Spectator

Why Peter Mandelson Put in a Call to the Editor of the Daily Telegraph

Article excerpt

On Monday afternoon Peter Mandelson, the newly appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, telephoned Charles Moore, editor of the Daily Telegraph. Mr Mandelson had been called into Downing Street to learn of his new job only an hour or two before. He must have had many things to do, much to read, and yet he found time to pick up the telephone and talk to Mr Moore. A very friendly act, you may say, and we can be sure that Mr Mandelson was in a very friendly mood. But I would say that in truth this call was about as sweet as a visit from a sabre-toothed tiger.

By way of background, this government regards the Daily Telegraph as enemy numero uno. The Daily Mail is not yet seen as beyond the pale. Its editor, Paul Dacre, is still sought out by Mr Blair. After all, the paper sells more than twice as many copies as the Telegraph, and its goodwill is regarded as essential if Middle England is to be kept on board the New Labour bandwagon. Moreover, although the Mail is often critical of the government, it is not oppositional in the way the Telegraph is. The Daily Telegraph is Mr Blair's only real out-and-out enemy in the British press.

In a recent interview on Radio Four's Today programme, Mr Blair made three dismissive references to the Telegraph, associating it, in the aftermath of his party conference speech, with the `forces of conservatism' in British society. He would not have dared talk about the Daily Mail, or indeed any other right-wing paper, in such a way. His strategy, and that of his press secretary, Alastair Campbell, is to represent the Telegraph as being off the radar screen of reasonable opinion, as the reactionary representative of Old Britain. And it is true that the Telegraph is fighting the government tooth-and-nail over its plans to abolish fox-hunting and its growing, if surreptitious, support for the single currency. Above all, the paper has bitterly attacked almost everything Mo Mowlam and Tony Blair have done in Northern Ireland. It is even orchestrating a campaign on behalf of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which will cease to exist in anything like its present form if Chris Patten's recent recommendations are implemented.

I suppose one might, if one were too charitable and very naive, regard Mr Mandelson's telephone call to Mr Moore as no more than a big-hearted attempt to rebuild fences trampled down by the exuberant Mo Mowlam. In a superficial sense that is what it was. The new Northern Ireland secretary has always been very adept at buttering up right-wing editors. He hopes that his charm will work its wonders on Mr Moore, and that he may be able to convince the ultra-Unionist editor of the Daily Telegraph that he has no wish to break up or even weaken the Union. But we may be sure, I think, that although Mr Mandelson's style will be altogether more suave than that of Dr Mowlam, his policies will be pretty much the same. Has he not already said so? He may toss the odd sop to the Right, but that will hardly suffice. It won't be long before the Daily Telegraph is writing about Mr Mandelson in the same agitated way that it has been writing about Mo Mowlam.

What will Mr Mandelson do then? We know that he shares the Prime Minister's analysis of the `forces of conservatism' indeed, the phrase appears to have been invented by him - and that he doesn't really like or admire the Daily Telegraph any more than Mr Blair or Mr Campbell do. So I believe that this most brilliant of propagandists will try to continue what Mr Blair has already started. …

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