The past few days have been bad for the Coalition but far worse for Tories. It was they, rather than the Liberal Democrats, who bore the brunt of the media blame for the Budget, and it was they who were turned over by yesterday's Sunday Times over talk of dodgy donations.
What was remarkable about the response to George Osborne's Budget is that he won so little support in the supposedly friendly parts of the press. He might have expected that his decision to cut the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p would earn him some plaudits among right-wing newspapers but it barely did. They were as critical of many of the measures, and in particular the "Granny Tax", as The Guardian and the Daily Mirror.
In fact, the only newspaper which rallied to Mr Osborne's defence was The Times, which on balance liked the Budget, and justified the "Granny Tax". The Daily Mail, and only to a slightly lesser extent The Daily Telegraph and The Sun, carried despairing leaders, while columnist after columnist lined up to complain. The non-Tory press focused on the iniquities of the cut to the top rate. The Guardian's Polly Toynbee went further than most, judging the Budget "dense with Tory nostrums from another age, a menu for backbench blowhards and Redwood dreamers". She could scarcely have been more wrong. The Tory "blowhards" in the right-wing newspapers, whoever they are, were unimpressed. Blowhard-in-chief John Redwood was quoted in Saturday's Mail as saying that government spending has continued to rise in real terms despite the cuts.
Then came yesterday's Sunday Times story about Peter Cruddas, co-treasurer of the Conservative Party, being filmed claiming to flog secret meetings with the Prime Minister in return for donations of £250,000. It is hard to escape the suspicion that the Murdoch-owned title, normally friendly to the Tories, may have been partly motivated by other considerations.
Back in the mid-1990s, the Tories, under John Major, found themselves on the receiving end of near universal loathing in the press. The animus of the left-wing newspapers after such a Budget was to be expected, but the equal, and sometimes greater, animus of the right-wing press should alarm Cameron and Osborne.
The truth is that Cameron has lost whatever goodwill he had with the non-Tory press while offending the right-wing press on a succession of issues. His only consolation is that Ed Miliband offers an uninspiring rallying cry to disenchanted newspapers.Reuse content