The Conservatives in Brighton: Party gives old newspaper allies the role of scapegoat

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The Independent Online
LORD TEBBIT spelt it out this week - a Conservative Party knows it is in trouble when it is attacked by the Daily Telegraph.

But a sign which can only be interpreted as even greater insecurity is the way speaker after speaker has turned on the press to provide a scapegoat for the Government's problems, and the representatives from the constituencies have responded with the sort of cheers reserved in the past for attacks on trade unions or left-wing councils.

Searching for a popular target which straddles the split in the party over Europe, speakers have seized first on cheap jokes about the Shadow Cabinet, and a close second on the press. The most blatant was Norman Lamont on the media: 'They love to wallow in the bad news, ignore the good news - and then they ask: 'Now, Mr Lamont, what are you doing to improve confidence?' '

Michael Heseltine also departed from the text of his speech to savage the Telegraph for disloyally accusing the Government of having no economic policy.

Seasoned Conservative politicians have been dismayed by the trend. Lord Whitelaw, a leading figure in the Heath and Thatcher governments of the early 70s and early 80s, which went through similar economic crises, said it was counter-productive. 'Whingeing never gets you anywhere, in life or in politics. You've got to get on with newspapers and journalists who are trying to do their job properly.'

A largely unspoken factor behind the attacks was hinted at in a speech by Peter Lilley. 'One late night in Parliament I was browsing through some Latin verse - the only safe thing to do now the tabloids take such a close interest in our nocturnal activities . . .' Most of the party is uneasy that David Mellor was, as they see it, hounded out of office.

One Cabinet minister said his colleagues had been disappointed by criticism from the Financial Times, which advised readers to vote Labour in the election, but what had really hurt had been papers they had thought of as loyal supporters turning on them - the Telegraph, Mail and Express.

Max Hastings, editor of the Telegraph, said: 'After all these years with Labour deriding the Tory press, to hear Conservatives deriding the Tory press is verging on the satirical.' If the Government 'was cocking it up' and the Daily Telegraph failed to tell its readers this, they would not believe anything in the paper.