The Daily Mail sets about David Cameron in its editorial today. It accuses him of “insulting voters’ intelligence”, tells him to “avoid the PR men, spivs and trashy celebrities with whom he has taken to mixing” and advises him to “spend less time with his spin-doctors, worrying about his image and trying to be all things to all men.”
The Mail matters. Privately Tory strategists admit that its savaging of Cameron’s shift in European policy played a considerable part in depressing the certainty of Tory supporters to vote, one of the reasons for the party’s lead narrowing in the polls. If the Mail was fully on board with Project Cameron, it would shore up the Tory base and leave Cameron freer to concentrate on wooing swing voters.
There are a couple of reasons why relations between Cameron and the Mail are strained. One is that Cameron is culturally a very different figure from Paul Dacre: note the editorial’s reference to “PR men, spivs and trashy celebrities”. By contrast, Brown’s personal character meets with Dacre’s approval. Another is that the Tory communications team have decided that their top priority is keeping the BBC and News International happy, something that infuriates Associated. Also, the Mail does not like to look it is following the pack. When The Sun attacked Gordon Brown for his handwriting and spelling mistakes in a letter to the family of the fallen, the Mail rode to Brown’s defence.
The Tories will need friends both during the election campaign and in government, where they are going to have to do a lot of unpopular things and also some very unconservative ones. If the Mail is regularly attacking a Cameron government, it will make the media atmosphere just that more difficult for Prime Minister Cameron. The Tories would do well to spend time in the New Year trying to improve relations between them and the Mail.