During the last Parliament, at the height of the Coalition era, I wrote about the death of the Torygraph, the old assumption that the Daily Telegraph was a nailed-on supporter of the Conservative Party. The paper didn’t just express discomfort about Cameron and Cameronism, it had adopted a distinctive stance of its own, not least in its vociferous opposition to Government planning reforms.
At the time there were some voices expressing hope that this might be temporary, and the gap between party and paper would close at the same time as Cameron’s premiership ended. But as my piece argued –
“It now sees itself more as a voice of the conservative movement than the Conservative Party – a pressure group acting on behalf of its readers. Anyone hoping the Telegraph will “come home” to a post-Cameron Conservative Party will be sorely disappointed – this is a philosophical change, not a personal falling-out.”
A few months into Theresa May’s premiership, that remains the case. The Telegraph has been positive about May, but consistently through the lens of the issues on which she agrees with the paper’s agenda, not through a return to its one-time partisan fealty.
This is particularly visible in the way that the Telegraph worldview has been fleshed out. Over time it has added more issues and people to its approved list – including Nigel Farage.
The paper put several days of prominent coverage into promoting his early meeting, and flourishing relationship, with Trump, much to the discomfort of Downing Street. Early last month he favoured its premium subscribers with a “Breakfast with Nigel Farage” event, and more recently chose the Telegraph as the place to launch his campaign to get Douglas Carswell expelled from UKIP.
This partnership works on a number of fronts. In purely business terms, Farage is box office news in a way that his successor can only dream of. If anything, he has become more outspoken since “getting his life back”, and the combination of him and Donald Trump is particularly headline-grabbing. His new career involves all the media attention of his old one, with none of the bothersome leadership responsibilities, and the Telegraph is a willing provider of a floodlit stage.
More fundamentally, Farage is a perfect fit for that wider and distinctive worldview that the Telegraph is carving out for itself. He not only shares its support for Brexit, but articulates plenty of its other opinions, too. From his tone to his real ale, he hits a certain cultural sweet spot for the paper – and his anti-politics theme of course sits well in the pages which exposed the MPs’ expenses scandal. He is an avatar for much of what it wants and feels, the closest thing yet discovered to the newspaper made flesh.
If you view the Telegraph’s approach as forming itself into “a pressure group acting on behalf of its readers”, it’s worth considering how those readers are likely to relate to Farage. Some will be ardent UKIPers, and therefore confirmed fans. Many others – like habitual Conservatives more generally – are likely to have loaned UKIP their vote one or more times, say in European elections. Still more might never have backed his party at the ballot box but still enjoyed the sight of him laying into Herman van “Rumpy Pumpy” in the European Parliament, have common cause with his contempt for politically correct metropolitan elites, and shared his suspicion of Cameron’s modernisation project. You don’t have to be purple through-and-through to have a chuckle over your marmalade at his outbursts.
Put like that, it isn’t so surprising to see the emergence of The Daily Faragegraph – for the man and the newspaper alike it makes good sense.