Back in January, I wrote speculating what the right of centre press would be doing around this exact time now in regards to Brexit.
“The Daily Telegraph have taken an even harder Eurosceptic line over the last six months than they had previously held. But they don’t call it the Torygraph for nothing – butting up against most of the Conservative frontbench on an issue to be put to a national referendum will hard going for the publication to weather for that amount of time.
“The right of centre press, for the most part, I think, will cave into the Cameron-Osborne nexus on Europe. I could be wrong, but let us see. I just think the prize of getting beyond the EU referendum, to the promised land where a Corbyn-led Labour starts to disintegrate completely, will simply be too alluring to risk.”
How wrong I was. The Telegraph in particular has been unhesitant in attacking the prime minister and the chancellor in a full-throated manner over the last few weeks. And not particularly on Europe because that would be too obvious: it’s interesting that both Cameron and Osborne are having big problems at the moment, and the right of centre press have played a reasonable part in making that happen. I don’t wish to overstate the power of the large newspapers here – but these days, their influence is often underestimated. Both the PM and the chancellor are now experiencing what I call “Clegg sydrome” – having both the right and left of centre media attacking you at once. As the former Deputy Prime Minister found out, it’s a powerful thing to get caught inside.
Other ministers who have taken an In line during the referendum campaign have faced a hard time in the right of centre press as well – Sajid Javid and the 4,000 civil servants is a great example of this. That most of the media outlets giving the Business Secretary a hard time about his supposed plan to lay off thousands of people in his department seem to have forgotten that they themselves have called for the civil service to be cut down to size on many occasions; or that some of them have rallied in the past for the elimination of the BIS department altogether. Hardly matters; Javid is fair game for taking the same side as the prime minister on Europe.
Far from seeing these few months as a chance to destroy Labour forever, it’s clear that many Tory friendly media outlets have already taken that as a given and are now using the referendum build up as an opportunity to kill the Cameroon project to ensure that a more “truly Tory” leadership is installed next time round. I can sort of see the raw political logic: when a much more right-wing Tory government comes into play, slashing the state in a way that could end up making Osborne look like a dyed in the wool Keynesian, what will the Left and its media outlets really be able to say? “Yes, I know we said that Osborne was Thatcher cubed and you were confused because you didn’t see things change all that much, but this time we really, really mean it!”
With no other party able to get a Commons majority for the foreseeable future other than the Conservatives, and Labour looking almost certain to hang onto Corbyn thus ensuring a disastrous next general election in which they will almost certainly lose seats (if not a great many seats), what do those who wish to push the country further to the right really have to lose?