Stephen Glover: Press battle lines are reset – but who gets the BBC's vote?

From the moment he was elected Tory leader in December 2005, David Cameron developed a new media strategy.

After the Conservative defeat earlier that year – remember he had largely written the party's manifesto – he had formed the view that the Tories would find it difficult to win an election in the teeth of opposition from the left-wing media. They had had a torrid time during the campaign over immigration.

So the laborious and sometimes comically transparent rebranding of the Tory party was aimed not only at middle-ground voters. It was important to come to an accommodation with those parts of the media with anti-Tory instincts if the middle ground was to be won over. That meant principally the all-powerful BBC, as well as its in-house journal, The Guardian, and, to a lesser extent, The Independent. The Daily Mirror was beyond the scope of persuasion, but outside its ghetto of Labour-supporting readers it exercises little influence.

Hence Mr Cameron's shameless flirtation with Polly Toynbee and her newspaper, The Guardian, which for a time became almost fond of him. This was bound to annoy the Tories' traditional supporters, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, which were in any case annoyed by lots of other things, not least Mr Cameron's disinclination to discuss immigration, a decision calculated to avoid aggravating the people he was now trying to appease.

The Tory leader always knew The Guardian would sooner or later turn against him; it was a question of when. The paper (which, fortuitously for Mr Cameron, did not much like Gordon Brown) remained not unfriendly until, with the election approaching, it opened hostilities against Lord Ashcroft, the Tory's controversial billionaire deputy chairman, and Andy Coulson, the party's equally controversial communications chief who had presided over some very suspect practices in his former job as editor of the News of the World.

Though the Mail and Telegraph continued to grumble about Mr Cameron, he calculated, rightly as it is turning out, that they would come back fully on board once the election campaign got underway. Last autumn, some dark deal was done with Rupert Murdoch's Sun, the true nature of which we may not know for several years, if then. The paper renounced New Labour after 13 years' support, and embraced the Tories.

Arguably this was Mr Cameron's biggest mistake in what has generally been a successful strategy. The Sun's crude championing of the Tories, and its brutal treatment of its former New Labour friends, may have awakened atavistic memories in leftist minds, for some of whom Mr Murdoch remains the incarnation of evil. To a surprising extent old battle lines have been redrawn.

Indeed it is remarkable how familiar everything seems. Judging by the coverage of the last week, the Daily Telegraph has reprised its traditional role of Tory advocate, while the Daily Mail has been producing one anti-Labour splash after another, and no doubt has more up its sleeve. The Daily Express joins in with what it can muster. For its part, The Guardian has discovered that Mr Brown is a much better leader than it once thought, while Mr Cameron has turned out to be a sad disappointment. The Daily Mirror continues to attack him day-in, day-out, for being rich and posh. Only The Times, The Independent and, I suppose, the Financial Times maintain the appearance of being non-partisan, though we will see how long that will last.

But although newspapers may be said to have taken up their old positions, the same cannot yet be said of the BBC. Has Mr Cameron's long cultivation of the left-wing media paid off? If so, it will be a rich reward. The BBC will probably play a more important part in this election than ever before. It is devoting an unprecedented amount of airtime to the campaign – possibly more than most people want. Sky News offers brilliant coverage on the hustings, but has only a small audience, while ITV is not the force it was. I would not take the influence of the blogosphere too seriously. Newspapers remain powerful, and what they have lost in sales they may make up in terms of impact on the web. All in all, though, the BBC is a vital arena, probably more so than ever.

Some readers may dispute my contention that in the 1997, 2001 and 2005 elections the Corporation inclined towards New Labour. I accept, of course, that it is not a uniform organism with a directing brain. It naturally leans away from the Tories, not because its management wants it that way – though, in this instance, it might prefer a Labour victory as the Conservatives are fingering their scalpels with an eye to cuts – but because so few of its senior journalists are Tory. However hard they might try – and some of them may not always try very hard – it is not humanly possible to be entirely even-handed.

Except, perhaps, when you have a tired government and an unpopular Prime Minister and a Tory party that seems fresh, and liberal on social issues. In-house journal though it is, The Guardian may not have had the time to construct a case against the Tory leader that will resonate in BBC minds. On the other hand, old feelings run deep, and one can't rule out a reversion to former habits.

So far I have seen very little evidence of anti-Tory bias on the BBC. If anything, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, has the most to complain about, not on grounds of bias, but simply because he is so often written out of the script.

The one example of anti-Tory bias I have spotted – and it may have been accidental rather than intentional – was last Thursday on BBC2's Newsnight which gave the floor to Liam Byrne, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, to explain why the Tories' plans to cut National Insurance were misguided before inviting Dragons' Den millionaire entrepreneur James Caan to agree with him.

Needless to say, I am in favour of giving the Tories as hard a time as Labour or the Lib Dems, and the BBC can no doubt be counted on to do that. Will it go further if the prospect of an outright Conservative victory looms? I should be quite surprised if it did. But if the Tories do win they are most unlikely to have the happy honeymoon with the non-Conservative media which New Labour enjoyed with most newspapers from 1997 until the build-up to the Iraq war. Politics are going to become highly disputatious again, and David Cameron's accommodation with the left-wing media will almost certainly prove short-lived.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Professional Sales Trainee - B2B

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: First things first - for the av...

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive - Graduate / Entry Level

£22000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital advertising infras...

Guru Careers: PR Account Director / SAM

£50 - 60k (DOE) + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: A PR Account Director / SAM ...

Guru Careers: Research Analyst / Business Insight Analyst

£32 - £37K + extensive benefits: Guru Careers: Research Analyst / Business Ins...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?