Two weeks ago an item in Christopher Booker's Sunday Telegraph column was killed by the newspaper's editor. Mr Booker is a distinguished columnist, and in 16 years on the paper he has never been subjected to censorship of this sort. For us, the intriguing aspect of this affair is that the spiked copy was about David Cameron.
Interested readers can find it on the internet. The columnist (who, by the way, I do not know at all) used the first anniversary of Mr Cameron's election as Tory leader to suggest that "the greatest gamble in modern British politics has not come off". It ends with the thought that "Dave and his cronies seem so hopelessly ill-equipped to take on the serious business of government".
Why did Patience Wheatcroft, editor of The Sunday Telegraph, think this item unworthy of publication? Largely because both Telegraph titles, having been rather critical of the new Tory leader, have now come on side. One decisive event seems to have been the fairly recent visit by David Cameron to the Channel Island fortress of Brechou, where Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, proprietors of the Telegraph Media Group, reside.
Look for example at the outpourings of The Daily Telegraph's Simon Heffer, who used to be the Cameroons' number one hate figure in the Tory Press. Mr Heffer does not write so often about the Conservative leader as he once did, and when he does he is a good deal less vituperative than he used to be. In November 2005 he described him as "a PR spiv" and in September 2006 as "deliberately vapid". Yet when he wrote his own anniversary piece on 6 December, he limited himself to the politer observation that "David Cameron's first year as leader of the opposition has not been as brilliant as his apologists would have us believe".
The leader column has displayed a growing affection towards Mr Cameron. On the same day that Mr Heffer assumed his uncharacteristically statesmanlike tone towards the Tory leader, an editorial judged that "crucially, the Conservative Party is being taken seriously". The paper managed to restrain itself when the Cameroons recently embraced the Leftish commentator Polly Toynbee, though it could not entirely suppress a note of testiness when around the same time Mr Cameron cancelled at the last minute an appearance at the conference of the Confederation of British Industry.
A significant sea change has taken place, assisted, no doubt, by Will Lewis's recent accession to the editorship. Though it does not yet feel genuine love for Mr Cameron, The Daily Telegraph is resuming its historic role as the Conservatives' in-house newspaper. The Cameroons are not unnaturally quite pleased with themselves. They are now far more worried about the Daily Mail which, though not at all hostile, has hardly put its shoulder to David Cameron's wheel.
Where does this leave Right-wing commentators who write for the Telegraph titles? Let us hope that Christopher Booker (who in any case is scarcely a paid up member of the Tory Right) does not take too much umbrage at having a reasoned and wholly inoffensive item removed. He is an adornment to The Sunday Telegraph. Whatever pressures she may believe she is under, it really was rather childish of Patience Wheatcroft to behave in such a manner.
My main concerns centre on the carrot-headed Mr Heffer. He is a man who cannot be expected to derive much pleasure from being muzzled. Why shouldn't he have his say? Unless some latitude can be extended to him in defiance of the Cameroons, I would not be surprised if before long a mop of orange hair were not glimpsed in the entrance hall of Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail, for which paper he used to work. Perhaps even now bags of gold are being taken out of the company safe, and counted.
Farewell to a gallant friend whose wit and wonder shone on
In the early hours of Friday morning, Frank Johnson, who was my oldest journalistic friend, and very dear to me, died at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London. This brilliant, funny man was first diagnosed with cancer in 1999, and three years ago the disease made its reappearance. Even so, he continued to write a weekly column for The Daily Telegraph, and a fortnightly one for The Spectator, a magazine he had edited from 1995 until 1999, almost to the end. What moved and inspired his many friends during his final months and years was his gallantry. He did not like talking about his illness, however discomforting it was to him, and he never showed the slightest trace of self-pity. Even during the final, painful weeks, his love of life and his wit and his sense of wonder at the world shone out.
By not selling the 'Mirror', there may be cause for later reflection
Many commentators were either expecting or hoping that Trinity Mirror would announce last week the sale of the Daily Mirror and its sister national publications. A number of regional titles, as well as the Racing Post, are instead going on the block.
Who might buy the regional papers is not immediately obvious. The asking price may be in the region of £300m. When Daily Mail and General Trust tried to sell its regional business Northcliffe about a year ago, it discovered that buyers with bulging cheque books were not exactly queuing up.
Perhaps Trinity Mirror will have more luck.
Whatever happens, the company has decided to retain its most problematic titles. Can the struggling People be kept going for very long? The jewel in a somewhat tarnished crown is the Daily Mirror, which on Friday was named, deservedly I think, newspaper of the year at the What the Papers Say awards.
The trouble is that, for all its attractions to the judges, the Mirror is losing sales faster than almost any other national title for demographic and social reasons which it seems powerless to change.
Maybe Trinity Mirror believes there are no plausible buyers who can pay "top dollar" for the Daily Mirror. That would hardly be very surprising in the circumstances. But the policy of soldiering on, which in effect is what the company has decided to do, is not going to achieve anything. If sales continue to decline, so will revenues, and the Daily Mirror and its sister titles will be worth less in a year's time than they are today.
To come up with a strategy in such circumstances may be almost impossible, but to come up with no strategy at all verges on the suicidal.