Category Archives: Daily Telegraph
These are dark days for David Cameron and his government. Today’s newspapers, in company with TV and radio news bulletins, are dominated by disputes within his party over same-sex marriage and the European Union.
In addition, the claims about one of the prime minister’s aides having referred to party activists as “swivel-eyed loons” is the subject of several leading articles and surely adds to the air of gloom in Downing Street.
Every national daily carries reports on the determination of a significant proportion of Tory MPs to wreck Cameron’s plans to legalise gay marriage.
Three splash on the issue: “Tory rebels set to inflict new defeat on Cameron” (The Times); “Meltdown on gay marriage” (Daily Mail); and “No 10 pleads with Labour to save gay marriage bill” (The Guardian).
The Daily Telegraph chooses the “loons” affair: “Tories begin defecting to Ukip over ‘loons’ slur” but also gives front page space to a piece on the other drama, “Tory rebels back ‘wrecking’ plan for gay marriage bill”.
The Sun’s page two draws all three issues together under the headline “Loony doom: Mad row, Europe and gay marriage ‘destroying’ Tories”. Its political commentator, Trevor Kavanagh, tries to see it in positive terms for Cameron, as long as he follows an anti-EU policy.
The Independent splashes on Europe, “British business: We need to stay in the EU – or risk losing up to £92bn a year”, after being the recipient of a letter from “some of Britain’s most successful and eminent business leaders.”
The signatories include Richard Branson, Martin Sorrell, BT chairman Michael Rake, Lloyds bank chairman Win Bischoff, and UBM chair Helen Alexander.
The triple drama is too good an opportunity for the Daily Mirror to resist. It devotes a spread, headlined (somewhat optimistically from a Labour point of view) “Cam’s last stand”.
But Cameron will be much more concerned by the leading articles and op-ed articles in the papers that traditionally back his party.
In spite of the Conservative co-chairman, Lord Feldman, having denied telling two journalists that Tory constituency activists are “mad, swivel-eyed loons”, the Mail believes the “casual insult… chimes exactly with how members of Downing Street’s inner circle tend to describe those who deviate from the official party line.”
It says: “This contemptuous attitude has created division and distrust at the very moment the party should be pulling together to win the next election.”
Referring also to Lord Howe’s “warning” that Cameron risks losing control of his party, it reminds the prime minister that his activists will be doing the donkey work at election time rather than “the chums he has surrounded himself with at Number Ten.”
The Times pursues a similar theme in its editorial, “Time To Swivel”, in which it argues that “Cameron is in danger of alienating not only his enemies but also his friends.”
Whether or not Feldman did or did not describe party members as “mad, swivel-eyed loons”, the paper detects that it “is indicative of more than a split between the core of a political party and its fringes. Rather, it highlights an attitude at the heart of government, and one that is neither pleasant nor wise.”
It continues by talking of the elephant in the Tory’s party’s headquarters:
“Mr Cameron and his inner circle may well be right to believe that an election cannot be won by dogged adherence to the views of the Conservative base. But they are quite wrong to regard those views, and those who hold them, with such thinly disguised disdain.
This latest critique of grassroots Conservatives is strikingly redolent of Mr Cameron’s own dismissal in 2006 of Ukip supporters as ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’.
Indeed, there are a great many similarities between many Conservative activists and the party of Nigel Farage. Predominantly, both groups are older than Mr Cameron, less affluent than Mr Cameron, and likely to lead less metropolitan lives.
They are likely to worry about equal marriage, likely to be hostile towards the European Union, and likely to be sceptical about climate change. As these comments show, contempt for the views of such people morphs all too easily into contempt for the people themselves and for their circumstances.”
The Times, reminding readers that it too supports “equal marriage”, “understands that a Conservative party that takes dramatic steps in the direction of Ukip or even Conservative activism is one that will not win an election again.” But it concludes:
“Mr Cameron and his close advisers must recognise that it is not mad or ‘swivel-eyed’ to take a different view, and that there is a decent, hard-working, less metropolitan sort of Conservatism that is worthy of their respect. When inclusivity begins to exclude, something is badly awry.”
A variation of that viewpoint is explored in historical terms in the Telegraph by Tim Bale, a professor of politics at London’s Queen Mary university, in a piece headlined “Swivel-eyed, or seeing clearly?”
He thinks “many activists are clearly livid with a leadership they believe is riding roughshod over everything they hold dear” while “the high command… is increasingly exasperated with its own supporters.”
Bale believes angry Tories are prepared to do “irreparable harm” to Mr Cameron’s “slim” electoral chances and may well accept the “loons” label as “a badge of honour”.
Though uncertain that most Tory activists fit the stereotype of being “hidebound specimens” who are against the EU, overseas aid, wind farms and gay marriage, he contends that while “public attitudes have become noticeably more permissive over time, those of ordinary Tory members have not changed quite as quickly as everyone else’s.”
There is now, he writes, “a profound mismatch between the Conservative party as an institution and the lives of its 21st-century membership.”
At its foundation, its membership “was rooted in deference, and dependent on people prepared to do the donkey work without demanding any serious say on policy.” Her continues:
“All this… has now changed utterly… the party’s membership, particularly that of its activists, has been reduced to its essence – boiled down, if you like, to people with motivation over and above the norm…
To attend party conference nowadays is to see this split manifest. A few members of the silent majority still gamely turn up, but many more who might have gone before are absent – priced out of the event by the lobbyists and wannabes, or else convinced that it’s all got a bit too serious for the likes of them.
Today’s Tory members have also been influenced by the very consumerist ideology that their party did so much to champion. Activists want MPs – and ministers – who allow them to express their choices and get what they want immediately, in exactly the same way as they can every day in the market.”
In The Daily Express, Chris Roycroft-Davis, asks: “Why has Cameron turned against his own supporters?”
He also considers the division between the party leadership and core voters. Or, to put in his pejorative terms, “a socially elite clique of public schoolboys and Oxford graduates” as distinct from a party of “once-loyal supporters” who are “ordinary people like you and I.”
He can understand why they (he?) are now prepared to give their votes to – Ukip, “the Eighties Conservative party reincarnated.”
The Express’s “ordinary people” are different, however, from those who inhabit what The Independent calls “the real world” where, according to its editorial, “the majority of voters support same-sex marriage.”
Moreover, despite what Eurosceptics may say about Britain being better off outside the EU, the paper believes the letter sent to it by business leaders suggests otherwise.
Despite approaching matters from a different political perspective, the Indy appears to agree with the Telegraph’s Bale and the Express’s Roycroft-Davis by concluding:
“Not only is the Conservative Party splitting itself in two – it is leaving the electorate far behind.”
And Steve Richards, writing (unusually) in The Guardian, appears to agree with them too.
“Tory activists,” he writes, “have been subjected to a clunky, unsubtle ‘modernisation’ project in which social liberalism, while sincerely espoused, has been added on to the right-wing programme partly in an attempt to secure broader appeal.” He continues:
“There has been little deep thinking from Cameron about what a modern Conservative party might be like, but rather a shallow effort to retain most of the thinking on Europe and the state that lost the Conservatives three successive elections, with the addition of support for gay marriage.
The result is an unsatisfying, insubstantial clash between unreformed dwindling local parties and a leadership that acquired the top positions far too early in their careers with only half-formed ideas about what they wanted to change in relation to their party and the country.”
Political crises come and go, of course, and with them go the memories of the articles by political journalists and leader writers who so often suggest that each crisis betrays a deep division of some sort or other.
This time around, I tend to think they are on the ball. Even though the Daily Mirror’s Kevin Maguire could be accused of over-stating his case by writing that “the prime minister stinks of defeat”, his six-word summing up of the longer articles I’ve mentioned above does have the ring of truth.
How Cameron must pray for the Argentinians to invade the Falklands once more. It saved Margaret Thatcher from likely electoral defeat. Then again, would he act as Thatcher did? Discuss.
Party board’s involvement likely to dismay No 10, which has spent weekend rubbishing reports in Times and Daily Telegraph
Lord Feldman, the Conservative co-chairman, is to be challenged at a meeting of the party board on Monday over allegations that he made disparaging remarks about Tory grassroots activists.
As the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, led a cabinet fightback on behalf of Feldman, who denies having described activists as “mad, swivel-eyed loons”, a member of the Tory party board said he would be asking Feldman to explain himself.
Brian Binley, the Conservative MP for Northampton South who has been an officer of the party for 54 years, said: “This is a very disturbing matter and needs a full and proper review at the party board meeting. From that meeting I will decide how I will act thereafter.”
The involvement of the board, which represents the views of Tory activists, will dismay Downing Street after it spent the weekend rubbishing reports in the Times and Daily Telegraph about Feldman’s alleged comments. Feldman described the reports as “completely untrue”.
No 10 was particularly sensitive because the alleged remarks revived criticism of the Tory leadership for being aloof and out of touch. Hunt spoke for Downing Street when he told the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1: “The person who is alleged to have said that has denied it and I know the individual and I trust him. “
The unease across the party was highlighted yesterday when 35 current or former Conservative associations handed in a letter to Downing Street that accused the prime minister of showing “utter contempt” for the grassroots activists after pressing ahead with legislation for equal marriage. But Cameron came under fire from another wing when Lord Howe of Aberavon, the former chancellor, warned that he was losing control of the party on Europe.
Ben Harris-Quinney, the chairman of the Bow Group and director of Conservative Grassroots, which drummed up support for the letter, said of Feldman’s alleged remarks: “It doesn’t matter who made these comments, the problem is that it comes as no surprise and is representative of a wider malaise in the party – the disconnect between the leadership and the grassroots, between conservatism and the leadership of the Conservative party. The tail cannot continue to wag the dog.”
The Bow Group, which was founded in 1951, intervened in the wake of Feldman’s alleged remarks on Wednesday night, said to have been made shortly after 116 Tory MPs showed their unease with David Cameron over Europe and voted in favour of an amendment regretting the absence of a EU referendum in the Queen’s speech.
Taunted by a journalist about the vote, an unnamed senior member of Cameron’s inner circle was quoted by the Times and the Daily Telegraph as saying: “It’s fine. There’s really no problem. The MPs just have to do it because the associations tell them to, and the associations are all mad, swivel-eyed loons.”
The alleged remarks were particularly damaging because they appeared to echo the prime minister’s language. The FT reported in March that Cameron “tells colleagues that anyone who wants to talk to him about the EU is ‘swivel-eyed’“. The FT article was not challenged by No 10.
Downing Street said over the weekend that the Times and Telegraph, which reported the remarks, had no credibility because they had declined to name Feldman, who admitted talking briefly to journalists at the Intercontinental Hotel at Westminster.
The Tory co-chair recognised one of the journalists when he popped out of a private room, where he was attending a dinner hosted by the Conservative Friends of Pakistan.
The journalist and another colleague, who was attending a dinner in the hotel’s Blue Boar Smokehouse restaurant with the prime minister’s former civil service press secretary Steve Field, had a brief conversation with Feldman about the vote. Field and two other journalists did not hear the conversation.
Feldman has said that he is consulting his lawyers over the publication of the comments, which he said do not “represent my view of our activists”.
The veteran MP Brian Binley said: “I am angry because this makes the job of the voluntary sector so much difficult. The voluntary sector is the Conservative party, the leadership is the caretaker of the party not its proprietor. If a small group of people think they know better to the point where they insult party members in this way – if that is what has happened and I need to know whether that is what has happened – then I will be very angry indeed.
“I would be hurt and surprised if Andrew Feldman said these things. But I am in a serious quandary here because I don’t believe senior journalists would say these things if they didn’t have the basis of truth. That is why it is no good simply saying Andrew Feldman is an honourable man, it is no good simply saying I’m going to talk to my lawyer about this. I personally – and the voluntary sector – need to know the truth of this matter.”
Binley said he was shocked by the way in which the Tory leadership has accused the Times and Daily Telegraph of lying. “I have been around for a long time and I recognise that people might think I am a backwoodsman. I have been a party agent, a county councillor and an MP for eight years. I have always had a good relationship with journalists, local and national, and have only ever been misquoted and mistreated by one group of journalists – and that was over the expenses issue. I have never felt the need to feel unhappy with any other journalist.
David Mellor, a former member of John Major’s cabinet, said the row highlighted the need to have a heavyweight figure as Tory chairman. Feldman is co-chairman along with the MP Grant Shapps. Mellor told the Murnaghan Programme on Sky News: “I am old enough to remember the days when the Tory party chairman was a serious political figure and chosen because they were a serious political figure. Feldman is a great friend of the prime minister.
“He strenuously denies [the remarks]. But, if so, I have to say as a former lawyer – sue them. Where is the writ? I think we will find the writ will not appear. If it was him – as newspapers suggest – then this has been a disaster waiting to happen because you cannot elevate tennis playing friends to be chairman of the Conservative party without there being a political price to pay.”
The criticism of Cameron over Europe by Lord Howe prompted a withering intervention by Lord Mandelson. He told the Andrew Marr Show: “We all know what’s going on inside the Conservative party. The UK isolation party and their fellow travellers in the Conservatives are sort of operating a Soprano-style protection racket inside the Conservative party. They are saying: ‘Do what we want, give us what we are demanding, or we are going to burn your home down.’”
Mandelson added: “Just because one wing – the provisional wing – of the Conservative party want to bring down their leader and change their party’s policy and are using this as an issue to do so is not a good reason to hold a referendum.”
Between 1961, when London printing started, and 1976, the Guardian was published simultaneously in London and Manchester – where the northern editions, as well as those for Scotland and Ireland, were written, edited and printed. David Bridgman, who has died aged 81, was night editor – in charge of editorial production – for the Guardian in Manchester during the period before simultaneous printing finished in August 1976 with Manchester’s closure. He then moved across to the Daily Telegraph in Withy Grove, where he became assistant night editor until Manchester publication also ended in September 1987.
His laidback approach, all humour and charm, was much needed in the 1970s and 1980s as new technology and revised working practices rocked the newspaper industry. Dai, as he was known to colleagues, raised his eyebrows, not his voice. One night at Withy Grove his downtable subs stayed out considerably longer than their normal, modest, 90-minute break after first edition. On their return it was obvious that they’d consumed a beer or two too many. Clearly angry at this, Dai simply said “Go home” and produced the later editions by himself. The contrite subs never cared to tax his patience again.
Born in Swansea, Dai attended Swansea grammar school and started in journalism as a junior reporter for the South Wales Evening Post. He moved to the Birmingham Post as a subeditor, then on to the Scotsman, before joining the Guardian in 1964. Like many Manchester-based journalists, he had no desire to work in London. Always passionate about cinema, he became a freelance film critic for the Manchester Evening News and for BBC Radio Manchester.
For a few brief months in the summer and autumn of 1988 I was Dai’s editor when we launched North West Times, a regional morning broadsheet published from Manchester which lasted just 43 issues. Dai, as night editor, was one of many national newspaper journalists who joined the venture.
In the run-up to the launch Dai, Jim Lewis and I (all ex-Guardian) interviewed a string of highly experienced journalists looking for work after the Manchester closure of the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail. It was a nerve-racking task, but Dai’s choices were excellent. NWT’s demise had nothing to do with people’s skill or commitment: it simply ran out of cash before a market could be established.
Dai retired to live in the Swansea area, but had moved to Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, before his final illness.
He is survived by his second wife, Hazel, and his children, Jill, Madeleine, Patrick and Chris (Kit), from his first marriage, to Janet, which ended in divorce.