Liam Fox was supposedly the last Thatcherite in the Cabinet. I doubt he was, but we can agree that he kept the flag fluttering for the Tory Right. It might therefore have been expected that right-wing papers would show him some sympathy, even support, during his tribulations. In fact, they led the charge against him last week, with The Times, which admittedly may not see itself as right-wing, delivering the coup de grace on Friday by revealing the financial arrangements from which Dr Fox's friend Adam Werritty benefited.
Why was there an absence of support and occasional hostility among titles one might have expected to be friendly? Unlike some colleagues, the former defence minister did not much cultivate right-wing papers, and so discovered that he had few allies when he ran into trouble. Some titles, in particular The Sun, may have been partly influenced by questions over Dr Fox's sexuality. But by far the most important explanation has to do with a change in the nature of the right-wing Press.
When I was a young leader writer on The Daily Telegraph, we knew our primary duty was to get Tory ministers in difficulty off the hook. In this respect the Telegraph of those days – and until quite recently – performed the same task as did those Conservative MPs who declared what a fine and misprized man Dr Fox was, before announcing, after his resignation, how nobly he had acted. The Telegraph, and the other right-wing titles only to a slightly lesser degree, were tribally Tory, and concerned with promoting the interests of the Tory Party.
That link has been broken. The main reason is that there are no longer any proprietors with strong ties to the Conservatives. For the most part they are commercially minded, and in varying degrees entrust the political direction of their papers to their editors. They recognise their commercial interests are probably more likely to be served by having a Tory government, but there is no longer much identification with the Tory cause.
There were additional reasons behind Dr Fox's treatment. The Telegraph and Daily Mail in particular are disenchanted with David Cameron because they don't think he is robust enough. One might have expected this to redound to the advantage of the allegedly Thatcherite Dr Fox but it didn't, perhaps because he was seen to have gone along weakly with defence cuts. Right-wing titles are also cross with Mr Cameron because they believe that for self-serving reasons he has saddled them with the Leveson Inquiry.
Actually the hunt for Dr Fox was begun weeks ago by The Guardian, which acted to form in seeking another Tory ministerial scalp. More unexpectedly, the manner of the former Defence Secretary's defenestration illustrates that we have a right-wing, not a Tory, Press.
Don't confuse Dacre with MacKenzie
As I write a column for the Daily Mail, it may be bad form to praise its editor, Paul Dacre. And yet it has to be said that his address last week to the Leveson Inquiry was a storming performance in defence of a free press. He rightly pointed out that most newspapers are losing money, that they are much more regulated than they were 20 years ago, and that they are being challenged by "an utterly unregulated and arguably anarchic internet".
Since the setting up of the Leveson and myriad other inquiries into the media, this was the first time a substantial figure has defended the press. I am struck by how many journalists, even on the Left, agree with what Dacre said, and felt he was speaking for freedom. I suspect that many ordinary people do too.
How unfortunate, then, that this speech has been lumped together by some with the admittedly entertaining saloon-bar musings of Kelvin MacKenzie, ex-editor of The Sun and now a Mail columnist. By accusing David Cameron of "obsessive arse kissing", and Lord Justice Leveson of being a fool, Mr MacKenzie will have alienated potential supporters and undermined the cause.
If this isn't an agenda, I don't know what is
Two days ago I sat on a panel with Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, discussing phone hacking. What a civilised person he is. He said his newspaper has no political or commercial agenda against Rupert Murdoch. The tycoon just has too much power, which was abused by the News of the World.
Is the Guardian really not seized by hatred of the media magnate? Last Thursday it splashed with a story about the European edition of the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal boosting its circulation figures by buying "thousands of copies of its own paper at a knock-down rate".
If these allegations are true, such behaviour would be naughty. Yet there isn't a newspaper in the world that doesn't at some stage burnish its sales figure. The Guardian would not make such a hue and cry if a non-Murdoch title were involved. This was taking bashing him too far.Reuse content