The reports of someone close to Young Dave calling Tory Party activists “swivel-eyed loons” were first carried by the Murdoch Times and Barclay Brothers’ Maily Telegraph. The corresponding Sunday titles have continued to run the story. The Tories have since gone on the offensive, suggesting a connection between the way that “Loongate” was building, and the Alistair McAlpine saga.
So it should be pretty clear to anyone who is bothered that it is the papers that are normally the Tories’ natural supporters which have been majoring on this issue. From this, it follows that if the party wants to get a grip of the problem, it needs to address these reports, and maybe take a long and hard look at its relationships with journalists, as well as at its own behaviour.
As I noted yesterday, Andrew Feldman, who has spent most of the weekend flatly denying that he was the one close to Cameron, has already been responsible for his fair share of howlers. The impression is given that he became Tory co-chair – and a life peer – not on merit, but partly because of his contacts book, and more significantly because he is one of Cameron’s jolly good pals from University.
David Aaronovitch, who is prone to speaking direct common sense on occasion, put it very well on The Andy Marr Show (tm) this morning: there were three possible responses for the Tories to take. One was to take it on the chin, the second was to ask why anyone would think that of their activists, and the third – which is what they’re doing – is to demand “who says our branch chairs are loons”?
In other words, the Tories are instantly turning defensive. What came after Aaronovitch had had his say on the Marr paper review was that other prominent party members then appeared on the same show to add insult to injury. Moreover, the same tactic was deployed – to demand that viewers “look over there”. And where they wanted viewers to look was at the BBC.
John Redwood, the humourless Europhobe who is still MP for Wokingham, and who failed in his attempt to dislodge “Shagger” Major in 1995, was first. The Tories were not split, he asserted, and any suggestion in that direction was because the BBC wanted to present it as such. The thought that he was in favour of exiting the EU (full stop), and that many of his colleagues were not, was not allowed to enter.
Then came Jeremy Hunt, no longer the Culture Secretary to the relief of Spoonerism sufferers throughout the media, to peddle exactly the same line. The Tories were united, and it was the BBC who were saying otherwise. The thought now entered that this is an agreed and prepared line to take. But another thought also enters: it’s a pretty lame one. What happens when it’s Channel 4, or Sky News?
Or perhaps there ‘s a broadcasters’ conspiracy. Back to the drawing board, chaps.