Before Tom Baldwin's recent appointment as Ed Miliband's director of strategy and communications, I suggested that the Labour leader should make some overtures to the right-wing press. I am not sure I had in mind the kind of email Mr Baldwin recently sent to all members of the shadow Cabinet, which was leaked last week.
With Rupert Murdoch not just on the ropes, but in danger of being knocked clean out of the ring, Mr Baldwin rushes to his aid, armed with sponges and soothing unguents. The email warns against singling out Mr Murdoch's News International "out of spite" since other newspaper groups may also have been involved in phone hacking.
As for the media mogul's bid for BSkyB, Mr Baldwin urges "fair play" and accepts that "Cameron's dinners with Murdoch will not affect [Jeremy] Hunt's judgment" when the Culture Secretary considers the matter.
This is rather odd. The left and much of the right are up in arms against Mr Murdoch. Along comes Mr Baldwin, who has the reputation of being a Tory-hating socialist, albeit of the champagne variety, and instructs his colleagues to lay off. What is going on?
The answer is that, socialist though he may be, Mr Baldwin is a long-term admirer of Mr Murdoch's. He has spent much of his working life in one guise or another at the Murdoch-owned Times. During the days when that newspaper was hammering the Tory benefactor Lord Ashcroft as a means of damaging the Conservative Party and its then leader, William Hague, Mr Baldwin played a leading role.
In other words, while most on the left have reverted to a traditional standpoint of seeing Mr Murdoch as a right-wing menace, Mr Baldwin has not. He fondly recalls the time when the media tycoon was a thorn in the side of the Tory Party, and wonders whether those happy days could not come back. He may be right, though this is perhaps not the best moment to be seen riding to Mr Murdoch's rescue.
My advice to Mr Baldwin – not that he is very likely to take it – is to put out feelers not just to the Murdoch press but also other right-wing newspapers, notably The Daily Mail (which currently appears to dislike him, partly on account of his alleged former drug-taking) and The Daily Telegraph. There are plenty of issues on which Labour could find common cause with these titles – for example, the ill-conceived nature of NHS reform, the impending reduction in police numbers, the privatisation of some of our forests, ill-judged defence cuts, and so forth. Moreover, as Ed Miliband continues to find his feet, these papers will want to take him more seriously.
Ironically, just as Mr Baldwin was stretching out a hand to the left's new hate figure, David Cameron was appointing Craig Oliver as his director of communications. The Conservative leader should be congratulated for having tracked down virtually the only Tory who works for the BBC. Following the departure of Andy Coulson, a former Murdoch employee, his apparent strategy in choosing a BBC man is to put a little distance between himself and Rupert Murdoch. Who knows, David Cameron may have created more space for Tom Baldwin to develop his manoeuvres with his former boss.
Finding a home for Simon Heffer
Simon Heffer's admirers at The Daily Telegraph will be dismayed that the robust columnist is prolonging his sojourn in Cambridge, and will therefore not be in any position to undertake important executive duties for several months yet. Nonetheless, some minds are turning to what he might do when he finally returns from exile.
May I make a humble suggestion? Mr Heffer is believed to have half an eye on an exalted position at The Sunday Telegraph, which yesterday celebrated its 50th birthday, though he is far too self-effacing to say so. The paper already has a perfectly competent editor and deputy editor, but there are those who believe that the ginger-haired firebrand might be just the person to attract the younger and female readers of whom it stands in some considerable need.
It is not for me to involve myself in such sensitive matters regarding another newspaper. I hope, though, that we can count on Mr Heffer's shooting chum Murdoch MacLennan, chief executive of the Telegraph Media Group, to give full consideration to his old friend's claims. Influential columnist though he unquestionably is, Mr Heffer has long quietly dreamed of a grand executive role. It would be a great shame if his own natural modesty, or too rigid a sense of rectitude on the part of Mr MacLennan, were allowed to stand in his way.
The inside guide to Chipping Norton
Downing Street still refuses to disclose on which day over Christmas Rebekah Brooks, chief executive officer of News International, entertained David and Samantha Cameron, Rupert Murdoch and his son James at her home in north Oxfordshire, near Chipping Norton. Students of the shadowy "Chipping Norton set" (which made one of its first appearances in this column) will not be surprised by the group's disinclination to discuss its innermost workings.
This characteristic secrecy has only increased my ambition to arrange guided tours of the "Chipping Norton triangle" for American tourists and other interested parties, starting in my home in North Oxford. There is, of course, a legitimate dispute amongst scholars as to who are bona fide members of the set, and where exactly the "triangle" begins.
The Camerons and Brookses are obviously founder members, as are the PR magnifico Matthew Freud and his wife Elisabeth Murdoch. The car-mad Jeremy Clarkson of BBC2's Top Gear is also paid up, but I draw the line at Simon Kelner, editor-in-chief of this newspaper, partly because he lives in Woodstock, strictly speaking outside the "triangle", and partly because he does not have the necessary right-wing credentials. Unless we maintain rigorous geographical and political criteria, this thing is going to get out of hand.Reuse content