The Cameroons are cross with the right-wing Press, by which I mean The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. They grumble that the two newspapers support the deficit reduction but break ranks when the interests of their readers are threatened.
Last week's announcement by George Osborne that child benefit will be withdrawn from higher rate tax payers drew nothing but praise from the Murdoch-owned Times and Sun. The Independent was constructive without getting out the bunting. The Daily Mirror was unsympathetic and Guardian not notably friendly. Though polite, the response of the Mail and Telegraph was almost uniformly critical. Pretty well every columnist on both papers joined with the leader writers in criticising the Coalition.
The old, pre-Barclay brothers Daily Telegraph supported Tory governments through thick and thin. The Mail was not so blindly loyal to the party, but backed the general cause. Only five months after the election, both papers are restless, as is the Daily Express. The row over child benefit is the biggest rupture so far. It will be the first of many. If better-off graduates are stung by higher taxes and university tuition fees as has been widely reported, neither the Mail nor the Telegraph will be happy.
Both papers are partly motivated by dislike of the Lib Dems, but there is more to it than that. They believe – reasonably, I would say – that they represent the views of many Conservative voters more faithfully than David Cameron. The Tory leadership has sidelined what is now somewhat dismissively described by the BBC as the "Tory Right" (in fact, mainstream Toryism) but it can't bury the Telegraph and the Mail. Over the next months, both papers will probably be the fount of more criticism than disgruntled Conservative MPs.
A subtle realignment of the Press has taken place. Mr Cameron can only depend on The Times and The Sun, and their Sunday stablemates, with whose owner, Rupert Murdoch, a deal has been sealed in blood. They will support the Coalition until it is broken on the rocks. The Guardian, Independent and Mirror are obviously never going to be Tory cheerleaders, and such a role is not in the style of The Financial Times. That leaves a third element comprising the Mail and the Telegraph and, I suppose, the Express. While supporting the deficit reduction, they will continue to attack the Coalition over a succession of issues.
How much does it matter to the Prime Minister? Quite a lot – hence the response, part angry, part bemused, of the Cameroons. Ted Heath probably enjoyed more support from the Telegraph and Mail during the upheavals of 1973 than Mr Cameron does now. Given the course he has set, however, it is difficult to see how he can appease his Tory critics. His worry is that these are early days, and the Coalition is still broadly popular. What will the right-wing Press be saying in two years' time when it is not?
Coulson's enemies will need to do better than this
When I last wrote about the Andy Coulson affair I predicted The Guardian would not give up in its campaign against the Government's communications chief. I had not foreseen that the next bombshell would erupt from the Right rather than the Left. It came from my friend Peter Oborne in a gripping episode of Dispatches on Channel Four last Monday.
As a Daily Telegraph columnist, Mr Oborne should be congratulated for taking on Mr Coulson and No 10. He painted a compelling picture of a Tory leadership which strove to get close (too close, I fear) to the Murdoch empire, with Mr Coulson, a former senior employee of News International, acting as a key conduit.
But the programme did not take us much, if any, further in proving that he was aware of phone hacking while editor of the News of the World. As I have said before, I should be very surprised if he wasn't, but you can't deprive a man of his job on a hunch. Dispatches unveiled a former executive on the paper who made what appeared to be fresh allegations about Mr Coulson's involvement. The trouble is that he was not identified, and his lines were spoken by an actor. Mr Coulson is not going to be finished off by an anonymous source.
The absence of a knock-out blow did not prevent his enemies from drawing great comfort. "Phone-hacking: Andy Coulson faces fresh calls to resign" was a headline in Media Guardian. These calls came from Charles Clarke, a former Home Secretary and natural adversary, and Max Mosley, who has been locked in battle with the News of the World after it exposed his antics in a couple of orgies. Media Guardian did not mention this history, or suggest Mr Mosley might have a private agenda.
I suppose it would be very naïve to hope that, if Andy Coulson is going to be done down, it should be done by fair means rather than foul.
Why should Prince Harry be subjected to such abuse?
Despite good programmes such as Dispatches, Channel Four can display exceptional cruelty and poor taste. On 21 October it is broadcasting a 90-minute drama documentary called The Taking of Prince Harry. This reportedly imagines the Prince (played by someone bearing a striking resemblance to him) being kidnapped in Afghanistan, interrogated and threatened by the Taliban, before being subjected to a mock execution.
The evident assumption is that Prince Harry's feelings can be disregarded. Yet, so far as I am aware, he is a real person with a real family and real friends capable of being disturbed and shocked by this dramatisation. Do they not count? Moreover, serving and fighting in the Army is the one thing he does well. I should have thought that The Taking of Prince Harry will make it even more unlikely that he will ever be allowed to return to Afghanistan.Reuse content