Hardly a week goes by without David Cam-eron coming up with a new idea that astounds his critics and discomforts some of his friends. May I suggest one that might unite almost everybody? Stand up to Rupert Murdoch.
Following Tony Blair's highly discreditable example, Mr Cameron has been sucking up to the media tycoon, and has buttered up Rebekah Wade, editor of the Murdoch-owned Sun. Not that it has done him much good. Mr Murdoch evidently does not like Mr Cameron, regarding him as an over privileged toff, a class he detests. He recently told The New Yorker that the Tory leader doesn't believe in anything apart from image.
Last week another missile whizzed in Mr Cameron's direction. Irwin Stelzer, regarded as Mr Murdoch's ideological representative on earth, wrote a piece for The Daily Telegraph lamenting the Tories' disinclination to cut tax or reduce public expenditure. Without conforming to Murdoch's prescriptions, and generally abasing himself in the process, Mr Cameron is unlikely to be anointed.
So what? Is this not the time, of all times, for the Tories to stand up to a bully who treats leading politicians as messenger boys? Mr Murdoch is 75, and will not live for ever. There are signs his faculties are failing. As I wrote last week, his British titles have problems, and his decision to launch a London freesheet, which is far from making money, may not be the brightest idea of the century. Last week he was forced by a public outcry to pull an American television programme in which the acquitted murder suspect OJ Simpson was to reveal how he would have killed his ex-wife, and he also pulped the accompanying book.
As a foreign-born apostle of bad taste, Mr Murdoch is not much loved in America. Nor is he here, I suspect, even among Sun readers. His attempt to stymie a takeover of ITV by buying a block of shares can easily be represented as mean-minded and negative. One way and another, Mr Murdoch, because of his advancing years and obvious frailties, is weaker than he has ever been.
Does Mr Cameron realise this? I don't know. His culture spokesman, a laid-back old Etonian called Hugo Swire, has avoiding criticising Mr Murdoch's antics over ITV. Perhaps he has pals in the tycoon's British company, News International, as does one of his predecessors, John Whittingdale. But this is no time for personal loyalties. The issue is whether the time has come when it may be possible to clip Mr Murdoch's wings.
In this regard, it would be reassuring if Tory publications could provide some support. For example, the current issue of The Spectator does not mention Mr Murdoch and ITV, though these days it boasts a business section. I very much hope this omission does not give further credence to the theory that Matthew D'Ancona's Spectator has become a weekly job application to Mr Murdoch. Incidentally, there has so far been no review in the magazine of Tom Bower's devastating book about the disgraced Press tycoon Conrad Black. I trust no one is sucking up to him.
Stanley Baldwin famously saw off the Press barons in 1931 after his famous speech about "power without responsibility". He later made it up with them, but on terms which ensured that he was not their creature, to be bullied and ordered about. David Cameron could do the same with Rupert Murdoch, and perhaps make himself into a national hero.
* NOW THAT the former Russian Spy Alexander Litvinenko has died from unexplained poisoning, I wonder whether The Sun and the Daily Mirror may be regretting their front page headlines of last Tuesday. In The Sun's case it was "From Russia with Lunch," and in the Mirror's "From Russia with Loathe". Surely there is a time and place for these terrible puns, and it is not a man's impending death.
* POLLY TOYNBEE, the Tories' new pin-up girl, is in a time warp in more ways than one. Last Tuesday she suggested on Radio Four's Today programme that 75 per cent of the Press supports the Tory party. It would be closer to the truth to say that 75 per cent of the Press supports New Labour. Polly always chooses to forget that for the past 10 years Rupert Murdoch's mass-circulation Sun and News of the World have been Blairite cheerleaders.
* FOR MONTHS, commentators, including myself, have been writing about advertising migrating to the web, and some have been forecasting the slow death of newspapers. At the end of last week there was the glimmer of a scintilla of a hint that the pessimism may have been overdone. In revealing its latest figures, the Daily Mail and General Trust, owner of the Daily Mail, said that the national advertising market was showing signs of recovery. Revenues for October and November are higher than they were in the corresponding months last year.
As a strong title, the Mail is likely to be among the first to enjoy any recovery. But there are one or two signs of optimism elsewhere. The pick-up seems to be more marked in newspaper magazines, which offer high-quality colour of a kind not available on the internet. Classified advertising will continue to migrate, but colour display may be coming back.
Drop the vanity: it's time to sell the Mirror
Two years ago a little-known multimillionaire called Marcus Evans bid £700m to £800m for the Daily Mirror and its Sunday sister, and was rebuffed. Now he has come back with an offer thought to be £200m less, reflecting the titles' continuing circulation decline and, in company with the rest of the market, their loss of advertising.
Some people may think his smaller bid is a bit of a cheek. My feeling is that he is a brave man. When a newspaper has been in circulation decline for some 30 years, it takes courage to make a bid for it. Perhaps he hopes there are still cost savings to be made, though, by all reports, Sly Bailey, chief executive of Trinity Mirror, has been pretty ruthless.
The Daily Mirror is a better paper than it has been for some time but, alas, that is not the point. Its working-class readership is slowly contracting, and the rival Sun is putting on the heat in the North-west with cut-price copies. It has also stolen sales by the same means from the Mirror's sister title in Scotland, the Daily Record.
Trinity Mirror, which also owns many regional papers, should make up its mind by December as to whether it wants to sell the Daily Mirror. There may be other interested parties than Mr Evans, including private equity groups, which always believe they can find extra cost savings.
Only vanity could make the company hang on to the paper. It is a relentlessly declining asset, and I doubt there is an editor in the world, even with an enhanced marketing budget, who could turn it round. If Mr Evans is rebuffed again, he - or others - will be back in another two years with an even smaller offer.Reuse content