Stephen Glover

If Michael Howard can disown the past, so can we all

If Michael Howard can disown the past, so can we all

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The Tory party’s embrace of Michael Howard has caused much wonderment, particularly in the liberal press. One moment shadow minister after shadow minister declares undying support for IDS, whose virtues of integrity and honour are said to be an extraordinary gift. Mr Howard himself says he has no wish other than that Mr Duncan Smith should remain leader of the Tory party. The next moment — whoosh! — the same shadow ministers are declaring their lifelong love for Mr Howard, as he clutches the cup that has been passed to him. Constituency chairmen who a few days ago publicly rubbed their eyes in disbelief and threatened a revolution if a hair on IDS’s bald pate was rearranged, also become instant converts to the charms of Mr Howard. The former home secretary, once dismissed as a slightly oily character whose very face evoked the baleful Major years, is represented as a man shaped by nature for his new role, the obvious saviour of the Tory party.

Journalists, particularly high-minded ones, are apt to laugh at these transparently cynical and self-serving MPs. Yet I wonder whether we are very different. I think, for example, of recent events at the Daily Telegraph. There were many long faces when the departure of Charles Moore as editor was announced several weeks ago. Some columnists and leader writers confided that the intellectual reputation of the newspaper was at stake. Martin Newland, the incoming editor, was said to be a raw newshound whose understanding of politics was very slight. How could this lightweight possibly replace a man of the stature of Mr Moore? Sarah Sands, the paper’s deputy editor, who had loyally served Mr Moore, was said to be closeted with her advisers, considering her position. Surely Conrad Black, proprietor of the Daily Telegraph, had made a dreadful mistake?

Only a few weeks have passed, and it turns out that Mr Newland is not such a clot after all. The Telegraph columnist who told me four weeks ago that ‘Mr Moore was the greatest stylist of his generation’ now volunteers the thought that the paper was pretty sparky these days. A writer who was once an especial favourite of Mr Moore’s is now doted on by Mr Newland. One senior Telegraph journalist telephones me to say that ‘things are much more relaxed’ under the new editor, whose skill in assembling news ‘packages’ is greatly admired. ‘I have always been a Newland man’ says an old friend of Mr Moore’s, not entirely ironically. Sarah Sands is believed to be happy again. Nor is praise for the young genius confined to those who work at the Telegraph. In the Observer Cristina Odone writes of the paper that ‘young fogeys have cast off their bicycle clips and Barbours and are donning Gap or Armani.... Yes, there is life in the old Torygraph yet.’ If Ms Odone was not known to be so happy as a columnist on the Observer, this might have been interpreted as a job application to join Mr Newland’s exciting new Daily Telegraph.

All this is absurd, of course. The paper has not changed very much. The ‘puff box’ beneath the masthead on the front page advertises slightly more downmarket wares. Perhaps the news pages, with their much praised ‘packages’, are a bit sharper. Perhaps the leaders are a bit flatter. The paper was rather feeble-minded not to endorse a replacement of IDS, and was slower than much of Fleet Street in identifying Mr Howard as the new saviour. Incidentally, while on the subject, I seem to remember that in another publication I once described Mr Howard as ‘mincing into Downing Street’. I would like now formally to withdraw that ill-chosen phrase. If he can disown the past, so can we all.

I am sure that Mr Moore, as he toils away on his biography of Margaret Thatcher, will regard his dethronement with amusement. The editor is dead, long live the editor. At the Times, the same people who once treasured Peter Stothard’s jokes chuckle whenever Robert Thomson opens his mouth. How quickly the Daily Mail’s Sir David English has been forgotten. Of course at every paper there is a sprinkling of old believers who secretly burn a candle for the old regime. But the show must go on. It is bigger than the players, even than the stars. Proprietors, too, can come and go. The Tory party may be more obviously brutal, but in its elevation of new champions, and its quick forgetting of old ones, Fleet Street does not have much to learn.

Pundits seem unable to make up their minds as to whether the Independent’s tabloid is a success or a failure. This is perhaps because it is a bit of both.

It is a success in the sense that there has been a net gain in sales in the M25 area. Eighty-five thousand copies of the tabloid are being distributed every day in addition to the broadsheet, and the paper claims to have achieved a net sale increase of 25,000 in the area. On Tuesday the tabloid was introduced in the northwest of England, and next week it will be distributed in the south. Soon it will cover the whole country. If the paper were able to repeat the success which it has enjoyed in the M25 area, it might be able to boost its overall national sale by 75,000 copies a day. The tabloid version is reckoned to be costing about £5 million. No conventional marketing campaign costing that amount would be expected to attract as many as 75,000 extra copies a day.

In that sense the experiment is an undoubted success. My caveat is that the tabloid Indy does not look very attractive. It is simply a ‘mini-me’ version in which all the typographical features of the broadsheet have been transferred to the smaller format. The result is that the tabloid looks dense, and, with a run of page after page after page of news, appears to my eye rather dull and uniform. If you were designing an upmarket tabloid from scratch, you would not produce the tabloid Independent. They have presumably done it in this way to reassure readers that the tabloid is not too radical a departure, and is still very much the Independent. And, of course, the tabloid version has exactly the same content. There is nothing new about it other than its shape.

All in all, I would describe the experiment as a marketing rather than a journalistic success. If the ultimate aim is for the Independent to be solely available as a tabloid, and to drop the broadsheet altogether, there will have to be a good deal more original journalistic thinking.

The Guardian is the weather vane of the politically correct. When its writers adopt a particular usage, the rest of us should realise that this is now the acceptable form of words. So we should single out a story by the newspaper’s New York correspondent, Gary Younge, last Saturday. In writing about 48 murders allegedly committed by one man, Mr Younge several times used the phrase ‘sex workers’. Please note that this term is now to be preferred to the blatantly derogatory and demeaning word ‘prostitute’.