Stephen Glover on the Press

The people who really matter in the battle for the Tory leadership
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The Independent Online

Don't know why it is, but Tories, often so nice in person, become positively feral when they elect their leaders. This year's contest promises to be as nasty as any there has ever been. Some of the hostilities will take place in the pages of right-wing newspapers. There have already been some skirmishes, and it is possible to see the shape of the battle.

Don't know why it is, but Tories, often so nice in person, become positively feral when they elect their leaders. This year's contest promises to be as nasty as any there has ever been. Some of the hostilities will take place in the pages of right-wing newspapers. There have already been some skirmishes, and it is possible to see the shape of the battle.

The two most important newspapers in the contest will be The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. In so far as the outcome will be determined by Tory activists, the Telegraph will probably be the more influential, since it is the first read of many such people. If the activists have little say in the process, as is Michael Howard's intention, then the Mail will come more into its own.

In 2001 the Telegraph was decisive in rooting for the outsider Iain Duncan Smith. Since then, with the departure of Charles Moore as editor, and the subsequent defenestration of right-wing writers such as Dean Godson, Janet Daley and Daniel Johnson, the paper has tacked more to the centre. In its columnist, and assistant editor, Alice Thomson, the paper has a champion of the Notting Hill set, and of the candidature of the moderniser David Cameron. Thomson has already angered supporters of David Davis by quoting a Tory MP referring to their hero as "matinée idle", and the Whip column in the Sun has been lashing her mercilessly. The question is how far Martin Newland, the Telegraph's editor, will be influenced by Thomson. It is difficult to see the paper embracing Davis with the enthusiasm it once extended to Duncan Smith.

Meanwhile the Mail has been keeping its powder dry, and evidently regards another Tory leadership election with a combination of boredom and exasperation. (I should again declare an interest as a columnist for the paper). During the election campaign it backed Howard almost to the hilt, but as yet it shows no affection for Davis. In 2001 it supported the Europhile Kenneth Clarke, notwithstanding his Europhilia and its own strong Euroscepticism, and might well do so again if Clarke were to stand, on the basis that he is voter-friendly and seen by the paper as a potential winner. However, Davis is undoubtedly closer in outlook to the Mail, and so might win its support if he made his number with its editor, Paul Dacre.

There are other potential influences. Tory MPs on the left of the party might look to The Times, which is unlikely to support someone as right-wing as Davis is said to be. Columnists such as Tim Hames, Alice Miles and Mary-Ann Sieghart will plump for a modernising candidate, though William Rees-Mogg's heart is likely to be with Davis, and Patience Wheatcroft, the paper's business editor, is also believed to favour him strongly. The Sun will probably back the council-house-born Davis, though it is unlikely to maintain much interest in the contest. I doubt that the Daily Express, though strongly Tory again, will exercise much influence. Nor will The Spectator magazine, though, in theory, it should do. It has published successive leaders in praise of Howard and the Notting Hill set. So long as Boris Johnson remains its editor, the magazine will support everyone and no one.

Of course, none of this may matter very much. Only the Daily Mail supported Margaret Thatcher during the 1975 contest, which was then limited to Conservative MPs, and she won in spite of the indifference or opposition of the rest of the Tory press. But grass-roots Tories are likely to retain some role in this election; and Conservative MPs may be more uncertain - and therefore more open to guidance from Tory newspapers - than were their predecessors in 1975. That suggests to me that David Davis needs to woo, and win, the Telegraph and the Mail.

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