Last week I suggested that The Daily Telegraph was growing surprisingly close to Gordon Brown. I pointed out that its new political editor, Andrew Porter, is a friend of Mr Brown's spin doctor, Damian McBride, and that Will Lewis, the Telegraph's editor, stood and clapped Mr Brown at the Labour Party conference.
Now I am able to put a little more flesh on the bones. It turns out that Mr Lewis met Mr Brown on at least one occasion in the summer. That in itself is not surprising: one would expect a new Prime Minister to make his number with the editor of The Daily Telegraph. We know he meets Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, quite often. What is interesting is what Mr Brown is supposed to have said to Mr Lewis.
Here we have to be careful. There were presumably only the two of them present. The story I am about to tell comes from a source who, we may reasonably suppose, received an account via Mr Lewis. If anything I am about to say is in any way inaccurate, Mr Lewis is free to write to this newspaper to say so.
A new understanding was broached. Mr Brown was keen to end the air of hostility. The Telegraph political side was full of Tories and the odd Blairite. Brownites were thin on the ground, if there were any at all. The Prime Minister proposed a fresh start that would lead to the paper being within a loop from which its unsympathetic attitude had previously excluded it. This means, we may assume, that it would be given stories.
We would be very rash to link this or any other exchanges with the subsequent appointment of Mr Porter, a political journalist on The Sun, as the Telegraph's political editor in place of George Jones. It is very possible that Mr Porter had already been identified and hired. Mr Jones was certainly due to retire. We should note again, though, that Mr Porter is well known to Damian McBride, as he is to Ed Balls, Mr Brown's right-hand man. And we cannot overlook the fact, as I mentioned last week, that the Telegraph's political coverage has recently been friendlier to Mr Brown than it used to be, though it is by no means ecstatic.
Here is another extraordinary fact. The Daily Telegraph was organising a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference, on whether there should be a referendum on the new European Treaty. The meeting had been publicised. Speakers, including the Labour MP Gisela Stuart, who is in favour of a referendum, had been lined up. Then, at the last moment, the event was cancelled by Mr Lewis.
Again, we would be unwise to jump to conclusions. It is nonetheless a plausible theory – I will put it no stronger – that Mr Lewis was persuaded by the Brown camp (the Prime Minister being adamantly opposed to a referendum) that any debate on the issue at a Labour Party conference would be unhelpful, and at odds with the understanding Mr Brown had arrived at with Mr Lewis. What other explanation could there be?
Perhaps we should not be surprised if a Labour Prime Minister tried to influence the Tory Daily Telegraph, but I would be deeply shocked if the paper acquiesced.
When it comes to inheritance tax, we're all Tory – except Polly
Not long ago, everyone on the left supported inheritance tax. Some thought that people should not be allowed to pass on any assets to their children. To do so was grossly disadvantageous to the offspring of parents who had nothing to leave.
How times have changed. George Osborne's announcement last week that a Tory administration would raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1m met with very little opposition either among Labour MPs or in the left-wing press. The plan was criticised, but on the basis that he had got his sums wrong, not that his proposition was flawed.
The explanation is surely simple. Many senior, and even not-so senior, journalists on left-of-centre newspapers own houses whose value far surpasses the present threshold of £300,000, and may even approach, or in some cases exceed, Mr Osborne's new figure. They must be practical. If they had stamped on the Tory plan, that might have deterred Mr Brown (on the assumption that he remains in power) from raising the threshold, which he seems likely to do.
That is why, amongst leftist titles, only the Daily Mirror – which can scarcely ignore its working-class readers, for many of whom one million pounds remains a fabulous sum – invoked traditional left-wing arguments. Among liberal-minded columnists, I could find only one passionate objector – The Guardian's Polly Toynbee. It was perhaps not one of her best hate-filled, anti-Tory tirades, but it motored along quite nicely.
The interesting point is that Polly is one of the richest of journalists. Her very agreeable house in a Regency enclave of south London cannot be worth less than £3m or so, and I expect that she has other assets. She was therefore arguing rather magnificently against her own interests. Wrong she may often be, but there is something almost noble about our Polly.
Just stick to the facts
For the Daily Express, the inquest into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales is an almost unbearable excitement. Peter Hill's paper has long suspected a conspiracy, and feeds its readers a regular diet of far-fetched Diana stories. I was still surprised to read on the front of last Thursday's Express: "Death crash driver was NOT drunk."
What the coroner actually said was that CCTV footage of the driver, Henri Paul, showed him to be acting soberly, though medical evidence found he was twice over the British drink-driving limit, and the jury would have to decide whether samples analysed came from Paul or someone else. Come on, Peter: that isn't the same as saying he was NOT drunk.