Magazine article The Spectator

The Question That Must Be Answered before the Telegraph Civil War Can Come to an End

Magazine article The Spectator

The Question That Must Be Answered before the Telegraph Civil War Can Come to an End

Article excerpt

Since I wrote last week about the Thatcher-Portillo affair, there have been several fascinating developments, and a great deal more ink has been spilt on the matter. Readers will recall that the Sunday Telegraph had suggested in its front-page splash on 15 July that Lady Thatcher was supporting Michael Portillo in the Tory leadership contest, only to have its story almost immediately denied by the Lady herself.

Now Charles Powell, identified by myself and others as the Sunday Telegraph's source, has told the London Evening Standard that he played no such role. At the same time it has been reported by two other newspapers that there exists a tape in which Lord Powell can be heard suggesting that Lady Thatcher does favour Mr Portillo. Most interesting of all, a theory has emerged that the Baroness did back Mr P. until the moment she saw the story. According to this view, she changed her mind about the Spanish One not over a period of several weeks, as I suggested in my piece last week, but within a few hours. The Sunday Telegraph is thereby acquitted of any error. What it published was absolutely true at the time.

This theory lurked in the shadows all last week, having being touted by assiduous Sunday Telegraph spin doctors. It emerged in its full glory in a column in Monday's Guardian by my esteemed colleague, and our old friend, Roy Campbell-Greenslade. Roy hypothesised that Lady Thatcher had second thoughts about her backing for Mr Portillo when she saw the Sunday Telegraph story. By way of embellishment, he came up with the idea that she was persuaded to change her mind by Charles Moore, her prospective biographer and editor of the Daily Telegraph - and fan of lain Duncan Smith. This notion, though unsupported by the slightest fragment of evidence, was plainly designed to do down Mr Moore. It suggests that he engages in politics when he should simply be writing about them. More damaging still, it fingers him as a Machiavellian schemer. For in the issue of Monday 16 July - a day after the Sunday Telegraph splash - the Daily Telegraph's first leader chided its sibling for publishing a 'false' story that had been denied by Lady Thatcher's office. Roy is saying that Mr Moore criticised the Sunday Telegraph (and by implication its editor, Dominic Lawson) for running a story he knew had been true.

Whether Roy Campbell-Greenslade dreamt up the smear himself, or had it implanted in his fertile brain by someone at the Sunday Telegraph, I will leave others to conjecture. But it is pure junk, as Dan Colson, the Telegraph chief executive, suggested in a letter to Wednesday's Guardian. How do I know? Partly because Mr Moore denies having persuaded Lady Thatcher to change her mind, and I know him to be a man of honour. Partly because Lady Thatcher's office tells me that the Baroness did not speak to Mr Moore until later on Sunday - after she had issued her denial of the Sunday Telegraph splash. And partly - in case all this is not enough for Roy and his informants - because Lady Thatcher's mind was already made up. She did not support Michael Portillo on that Saturday afternoon, as has been preposterously alleged, so she had no need of a persuader on Sunday morning.

It is astonishing how this simple fact has been obscured by all the spinning. I have spoken to three different sources, all of whom discussed Tory politics with Lady Thatcher in the two weeks before the Sunday Telegraph splash, and they are adamant that she was privately supporting lain Duncan Smith during this period. …

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