When James Harding stood down – or, more accurately, was forced out – from the editor’s chair at the Times, the paper’s newsroom was unusually quiet. Harding had earned the respect of his staff and his peers during his five years in the hot seat, and at first there was consternation over why Rupert Murdoch wanted him out. We can now say with some certainty what the reasons were.
Although Harding’s tenure had not been faultless, marred particularly by the “outing” of Police blogger NightJack, he had steered a relatively impartial course, reporting without restraint even on the unfolding events of Phonehackgate. But while this may have been beneficial for the readers, it did not go down well with Rupe. And nor did Harding’s even-handed approach to politics.
He was seen as too small-l liberal, the kind of approach that did for Harold Evans before him: investigative journalism for Murdoch is all very well, but there is an approved political line to take, and Harding was not taking the hint and sticking to it. There was no secret why Andrew “Brillo Pad” Neil was so favoured by Rupe during his time at the Sunday Times: he certainly did take the hint.
Neil was an unswerving supporter of the Tories at a time of occasional controversy. Now Murdoch wants another in the same vein. That Harding was a journalism and news man first and a politician last came clear last week when he was appointed as Director of BBC News and Current Affairs. Murdoch has made his move two years before the next General Election, and for one reason.
Rupe wants to show the world that he is still strong, and that means training all his firepower on getting his preferred candidate into 10 Downing Street. His support of Young Dave may have cooled, but the prospect of Mil The Younger getting elected frightens him shitless. Tone he had a line to; Miliband he does not. If you need confirmation of all that, another Murdoch appointment has provided it today.
Step forward Tim Montgomerie, late of ConHome, and now the Times’ Comment Editor. Not for nothing did Peter Preston muse “Tim Montgomerie may make the Times a more openly Conservative home”. He went on “The question about Montgomerie ... has long been whether, at root, he's a journalist or a political activist”. Today, Monty has answered that one.
“Labour’s lead is only 7%! That’s BEFORE any recovery; BEFORE Fleet St turns on Miliband; BEFORE tax bombshell attack” was the Monty line earlier today. A combination of hopefulness (what recovery?), fantasy (how much more can the press attack Miliband?) and giveaway. Plus it’s now glaringly obvious that the Times has lurched right and, like the Telegraph before it, ceased to be a paper of record.
But good of Montgomerie to publicly admit it, as if anyone didn’t already know.