I’ll start off by saying I usually find most attacks on the right of centre press by the Left to be over the top and silly. The idea that they conspire in a room together about how to keep the “establishment” clutching the reigns of power; the fact that the word bias is thrown at the Telegraph, the Mail, et al, when the Guardian still employs commentators so far to the left they would have made Lenin feel slightly uncomfortable.
But the right wing section of the press are now presented with a genuine dilemma. What do they do when a Tory prime minister, one who has just secured the first outright Conservative Party victory in 23 years, begins to campaign openly to stay in the EU?
The Telegraph in particular has a situation here. On one hand, as a newspaper that is unabashedly a cheerleader for the Tories, you would think they would get behind something almost all of the Conservative frontbench is campaigning for in a referendum situation almost automatically. On the other, the paper has come close to self-parody on the European issue of late, and as a result have left themselves little wriggle room. It’s become a race between the Guardian and the Telegraph recently, as to who can run the more derisory story about the prime minister and his dealings in Europe. The latter usually wins.
So is the Telegraph really going to spend over a year constantly bashing the main thing a Tory government is doing, in the process jumping on the main Conservative Party fault line, possibly helping to cause a split the likes of which is the only thing stopping the Tories from governing for a generation? Really?
I don’t know whether to expect the mother of all climb downs, or a rigid sticking to of position, regardless of that position’s logistical and political stupidity. It’s a subset of the grander question: will the Right destroy itself on the pyre of Europe at precisely the moment when hegemony beckons?
The left of centre has a problem too – having to support Cameron on something will grate. But they’ve long decided to support Britain’s membership of the European Union, regardless of the fact that such support makes little sense in the context of their far left, market-bashing worldview. And they aren’t faced with possibly ripping apart the party they support, at a time when it really needs it.
This is one of the key political items to watch over the next year and a bit. Does the about face come slowly, in the hope that no one notices? Or will the right of centre press stick to their canons, regardless of having to butt up against George Osborne on the defining issue of the parliament? I genuinely can’t begin to try and predict this one.