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Tuesday 24 March 2009

A Question of Judgment

Much of my attention is turned to the Tories, and for this I make no apology: these are the Men Who Would Be Kings. The probing of their character, motivation, principles and judgment not merely should, but must, be a pre-requisite for any potential government.

That, however, does not mean that the party of the medium-term, prudent, responsible and sustainable defender of the colour Broon gets a free ride. They, too, must expect scrutiny.

Back at the turn of the millennium, my opinion of Gordon Brown was revalued downwards, and has not recovered: this, as I suspect will be the case with many freelances, was over IR35. But this is as nothing to the disquiet I feel at Pa Broon’s trimming to the agenda of the Daily Mail, and its legendarily foul mouthed editor Paul Dacre.

Dacre is a figure that, the more I discover, the more loathsome I find him. His recent rant against Mr Justice Eady, where he managed to play bully, coward and hypocrite in rapid succession, reinforced my opinion superbly. Any Prime Minister would, surely, keep such a person at arm’s length? Why bother?

The answer, not surprisingly, depends on which end of the telescope you’re looking through. From the Broon end, it’s the thought that, in a potentially tight General Election, the encouragement of the Mail, or at least its failure to root for the Tories, could make the relationship worthwhile. From the Dacre end, it’s straightforward vanity: that the Prime Minister of the day seeks his opinion. This proves his continuing influence.

Both, I would suggest, are wrong. The power of the press to influence elections diminishes over time, and at best is marginal. Ken Livingstone was shafted just as much by Labour’s general unpopularity, and his own reluctance to soften his approach, as by the Standard. The Sun’s claim over the 1992 defeat of Neil Kinnock conveniently forgets the way the Tories made John Smith’s “shadow budget” a hostage to fortune, and their “red smoke” stunt in 2005 emphasises not so much their influence, as the plain fact that Michael Howard was not electabell.

Both should realise this: Brown will forever regret the plainly daft utterance of “British jobs for British workers” – over which the Mail duly poured an industrial strength quantity of scorn – and Dacre should remember the night of the 1997 General Election, where the terrible realisation hit home: there he was, seeing the Tories ship seat after seat, and concluding in disbelief “What the f*** is going on? Those are Daily Mail readers!”

As Harry Callahan once concluded, a man’s got to know his limitations.

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