Does a coalition government imply a coalition Press? That is what we have at the moment. With the exception of the viscerally pro-Labour Daily Mirror, all daily newspapers support in varying degrees what David Cameron yesterday called a "progressive alliance". The Guardian and the Daily Mail, each of which normally hates almost everything the other stands for, find themselves on the same side.
It is an amazing state of affairs. For the time being at least, we have the nearest thing to a one-party Press we have had since the Second World War. The question is whether it will last. That depends to a large extent on how much support the coalition retains. To judge by a poll in yesterday's Mail on Sunday, which suggested overwhelming approval of the Con-Lib pact, newspapers endorsing the new arrangements are not out of kilter with the public mood.
But in view of the unpopular decisions it is bound to make over debt reduction, the coalition will surely become steadily less popular. Moreover, I would suggest that there are some newspapers which have a sizeable proportion of readers who already have negative or even venomous feelings about the new Government.
Among centre-left newspapers, The Guardian is unhappiest with the coalition. On the eve of the election it enthusiastically backed the Lib Dems, thinking them more radical than Labour. After the results, the paper rooted for a progressive Lib-Lab alliance, and its editor, Alan Rusbridger, is said to have telephoned Nick Clegg to plead with him not to link up with the hated Tories. Polly Toynbee is already chewing the carpet, though there are one or two Guardian columnists, such as Martin Kettle, who are pro-coalition. The tone of the leader column is that of a disappointed parent who cannot bear the partner a once-treasured child has brought home. It won't be long before the paper is attacking the Government despite its Lib Dem contingent.
The Independent is in a not dissimilar position, though it need not extricate itself from a Lib Dem embrace, having avoided explicitly supporting the party. On the whole it dislikes the Tories less than The Guardian does, though I noted a new acerbity towards them during the latter part of the campaign, possibly following Simon Kelner's return to the editorial chair. The paper is traditionally somewhat "drier" than The Guardian over economics, and so may be less exercised by the severity of impending cuts. All in all, though, I would expect a rising tide of criticism for the coalition.
Reservations are also rife among centre-right newspapers, though here the picture is a little more complex. Already it is possible to discern irritation in the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph. Mr Cameron's announcement of a "progressive alliance" will not have helped. On Saturday the Mail splashed with a story suggesting that middle-class families face an extra annual tax bill of £1,200, while on Friday the Telegraph's front page got worked up (reasonably in my view) because the coalition will be pushing through changes in capital gains tax far more draconian than anything envisaged by Labour. The two papers will support the broad aims of a deficit reduction package, though not necessarily the means, but they will berate the Government should it appear too green, lax on immigration or wobbly on Europe.
The Murdoch-owned Times and Sun are in a slightly different boat – the former because it is less naturally Tory and therefore less offended by what is going on; the latter because it is almost irreversibly embroiled with Mr Cameron. The Tory leader rewarded The Sun for its passionate support by giving it his first newspaper interview last Friday, and it responded by declaring that "the youthful Cameron-Clegg duo has defied the critics with their rip-roaring start". This from a paper which only a week previously had pelted the Lib Dem leader in the stocks. Its patience will not be inexhaustible, but of all the centre-right newspapers The Sun is, oddly enough, likely to be friendliest towards the coalition.
However apocalyptic our economic predicament may be, it does not amount to wartime and newspapers will not cling to a coalition Government as they (mostly) did between 1940 and 1945. Some may try to pick and choose, and single out for attack the party in coalition which they hate. But if the coalition sticks together it will have to be criticised – or praised – together. On the whole I would think that this Cam-Clegg, Con-Lib stitch-up may eventually come in for rather more criticism than praise, because it has weakened the bonds that normally connect newspapers to the parties they support. At the end of it all, we may well end up in a situation not unlike the one we are in – with The Guardian and the Daily Mail fighting on the same side, or at any rate against a common enemy.
The Times trims its sails none too soon
The Times and The Sunday Times will soon introduce "paywalls" for online readers. Last week's announcement of substantial cuts of 10 per cent to their editorial budgets is therefore unfortunate timing. If you are charging people for a service that has hitherto been free, it doesn't make a lot of sense to risk reducing its quality.
But what alternative is there? In the year to June 2009, the two papers together lost £87.7m, The Times accounting for by far the lion's share. I make that £240,000 a day, which dwarfs even The Guardian's losses. Over the past year the advertising situation has improved a little, and there have been some economies, but this catastrophic haemorrhaging has barely been stemmed. Bad timing or not, something had to be done. The only wonder is that it was not done before. Most newspapers have already undergone the painful process now facing The Times and Sunday Times, and the delay does not reflect terribly well on senior management at News International. I salute Rupert Murdoch, so vilified by the chattering classes, for spending so much money over so long a period to keep The Times afloat.