UKIP and The Decline of The Times

by George_East on April 16, 2014

Tim MontgomerieI am not old enough to remember the apparent halcyon days of the Times before Rupert Murdoch got his grubby hands on the paper.  For me it has pretty much always been the weakest of the broadsheets.  With The Financial Times someway in the lead as the newspaper to be most relied upon for its news coverage (the only properly serious newspaper left on these Isles), The Guardian my ideological soul mate and with probably the best arts coverage, The Independent making up for its lack of resources and journalists, with great reporting on the Middle East from the likes of Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn, and the dear old Torygraph having the broadest range of news coverage, great sports writing and a spiky comment section (only marginally let down by the absurdity of employing Dan Hodges to write the same column online every other day).

The Times though has always seemed the most trivial with its tabloid-y obsession with celebrity. Yes it has some good columnists but since the veteran Peter Riddell stepped down, none (except perhaps Matthew Parris) are required reading.    

However, recent months have seen The Times become something altogether less impressive – it increasingly reads as an adjunct of the Conservative Party.   Now if you think this is par for the course for the right wing press in the UK, then you obviously haven’t been reading them.  Some of the most scathing criticism of the current government and David Cameron in particular has come from the likes of the  Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph (from the right yes, but absolutely brutal at times).

Following the recruitment last year of ConservativeHome founder and uber-Tory activist, Tim Montgomerie as comment editor, The Times appears more and more to be pursuing a partisan (rather than a merely ideological line).   Executive Editor, the recently ennobled Danny Finkelstein is, of course, its Chief Leader Writer.  He is also one of George Osborne’s speech writers and thereby intimately bound up with promoting the interests of the Conservative Party and the government.  The right wing political commentator and Telegraph columnist Peter Oborne in a scathing piece in The Spectator last year questioned the propriety of a journalist having such an entwined relationship with those on whom they are supposed to be reporting.   

Following the PR disaster that was David Cameron’s handing of the Maria Miller expenses story (Montgomerie incidentally backed Miller in his tweets on the story), which appears to have stopped the so brief you may have missed it Tory budget bounce in the polls and somewhat revived UKIP’s vote along the way, The Times this week has turned its fire on the expenses of Nigel Farage – running stories on its front page two days in a row.    Now, Farage’s expenses history (and that of other UKIP MEPs) are clearly a legitimate issue for scrutiny (just where did that £60,000 go?).  However, they have been known about for a long long time, and the timing of the The Times story (after Miller and in the run up to the Euro elections) is more than a little helpful to the Conservative fight back on the issue, which might have otherwise seen the expenses focus move on to other Tory MPs facing expenses issues like Patrick Mercer and Peter Bone.     

In response UKIP hit back hard listing the close connections between  the journalists at The Times and the inner circles of the Conservative Party.  The kings of the expenses stories, The Telegraph appear to be giving the story a wide berth (though it is probably true to say that their readers are far more UKIPPy).    One of the sources of the Times story, the wonderfully named David Samuel-Camps, has said in a letter that he was misquoted in the story.

In the meantime those of us on the centre left can sit back and laugh at the British right continuing to tear itself apart.   The greatest fear of David Cameron’s Conservative Party and, it would appear, The Times (to the extent that the two can be told apart these days) is that UKIP’s surge will result in a Labour government being returned.   The Times which once saw UKIP as useful in advancing the anti-EU agenda of its proprietor, now sees it as the biggest threat of all and has decided to try to take Farage down.   Pass the popcorn.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

David Blythin April 17, 2014 at 12:15 am

Good piece George. Dan Hodges is knob of knobs, and is clearly beyond parody.

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