The Tory press won its fight with the Government over the EU referendum. Now it is about to enter the lists for the Conservative leadership election – on which its view is rather less united.
The Sun is lining up behind Johnson. See a monster column from Trevor Kavanagh in today’s edition, unambiguously titled “Boris Johnson and Michael Gove WILL honour their promise to Sun readers”. It is illustrated with a picture of a the former London Mayor holding up a vow-type scroll with five pledges on it. But note the Justice Secretary’s name in the headline. This campaign is being presented as a joint and team ticket.
The Daily Mail seems to be keeping its powder dry. There is a column by Sarah Vine, a.k.a Mrs Michael Gove, about the night of the results – and what happened in the Gove household. But otherwise there is no sense of the paper throwing its weight behind a candidate or (just as importantly) against one. And when the Mail is against something you tend to know it. Paul Dacre, the paper’s editor, will choose between a politician who he has a history of distrusting (Boris Johnson) but who agreed with the Mail over Brexit, and another with whom he disagreed, (Theresa May), but to whom he has been less antipathetic. Unless, that is, he takes an interest in another pro-Leave candidate.
There will be no such hesitancy about the Daily Telegraph. It carries a piece by Stephen Crabb. But it is bound to throw its weight behind its columnist – Johnson – whose immediate pre-referendum piece was powerfully projected on the paper’s front page. The former Mayor made his journalistic name as the Sunday Telegraph‘s man in Brussels, went on begin his column for the Daily Telegraph as long ago as the 1990s, and has kept it on ever since. As a former Assistant Editor of the paper (I was its Comment Editor during part of this period), and as a former Spectator editor to boot, Johnson’s right-of-centre media connections are formidable.
“Revealed,” its online front page declares this morning. “Boris Johnson only candidate who can ensure Tories will win next General Election, polling suggests.” Expect plenty more where that came from. It’s true that the importance of endorsements by newspapers and blogs is grossly exaggerated. They don’t matter all that much. But the tone and flavour of coverage does – what stories are selected; how they are written; how they are projected.
The paper edition of the Telegraph is many Party members’ Fleet Street reading of choice, so its reporting and analysis are likely to matter very much if Johnson’s name is one of the two that is put before the members.
P.S: Some of you will be wondering about the Times and the Daily Express. The former has been very pro-Conservative at times (during the Thatcher years, for example), but traditionally has a more cross-party flavour. The latter is now UKIP’s paper.
P.P.S: This site will doubtless set out its stall before the final round in which MPs’ vote, but we want to take a good look at the programmes of the various candidates (whoever they may turn out to be) before taking a view.