The past few days have been bad for the Coalition but far worse for David Cameron's 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 Chancellor's measures, and in particular the "Granny Tax", as The Guardian and 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". (Not all of its columnists were favourable. Philip Collins was notably dismissive.) 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 Telegraph's Charles Moore was almost the only one who could find anything to raise half a cheer.
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. The paper has a very creditable record of exposing suspect party donations, and gave Labour a hard time on this score. But 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. David Cameron is privately accused – and not just by The Sunday Times – of saddling the press with the Leveson Inquiry in order to save his political skin.
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 David Cameron and George Osborne. Where are their dependable cheerleaders in the press? I can only think of The Times's super loyal Danny Finkelstein, and he is hardly going to be enough with his solitary musket.
Some people say that No 10's spin machine is hopeless, but that seems to be an instance of blaming the messenger. The truth is that David 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 Labour's Ed Miliband offers a pretty uninspiring rallying cry to disenchanted newspapers.
Cheeky Boris gets away with campaign column
An article unprecedented in the annals of modern British politics appeared in last Monday's Daily Telegraph. It was a column by Boris Johnson explaining why he has been such a brilliant Mayor of London, and inviting voters to plump for him in the mayoral elections on 3 May. We have a quaint old British tradition that politicians in office do not have regular newspaper columns in which they can advocate their policies and criticise their rivals. Boris broke that rule long ago, without anyone complaining very much, but I don't think he has ever gone as far as he did on this occasion when, with the mayoral campaign already under way, he drew attention to the no doubt genuine shortcomings of his opponent, Ken Livingstone, while singing his own praises.
This was, Boris informed readers, his last Telegraph piece until the election is over. He will be back, presumably on Monday 7 May, using his always readable and entertaining column to advance his political interests either as Mayor and prospective future Tory leader, if he wins on 3 May, or simply as future Tory leader if he loses.
Why do we allow him to get away with it? Because he is Boris, and he makes us laugh. There would be an outcry if any other major politician in office had a weekly pulpit in a national newspaper, but we have somehow been persuaded that the vaudeville act that is Boris Johnson should be exempt from the restrictions that bind ordinary mortals. In fact, although he is undoubtedly more amusing than other politicians, he is no less serious, nor any less in love with power. It is an absolutely brilliant achievement on Boris's part to have deceived us in this way.Reuse content