As I am interviewing Bertie Ahern at the Cheltenham Festival later today, I thought I’d catch him on the Marr programme to see whether he was in suit and tie or smart casual, and thereby get my dress code guidance. This is after all the man who when chairing an international summit wore the most extraordinary gold trousers which took even George Bush’s breath away.
Anyway today he was smart and sober in suit and tie and now I’m on my way. Before he came on I caught a bit of the paper review where Marr and his media guests made the point that the press mood surrounding the Tories was changing, that they were coming under greater scrutiny.
You could have fooled me. Let me give you a few examples of stories which, if they were about Labour, either now or when we were in Opposition, would be raging across the airwaves and filling pages of what we used to call the Sunday paper ‘gropes’, big background pieces. First, Boris Johnson’s attempts to give the woefully unqualified Veronica Wadley an important arts job.
Beyond editing a paper which has an arts section, it is difficult to see why she is suited to the post, set against other serious and talented contenders. It is equally difficult to escape the conclusion that this is appointment based not on merit but on the help her pro-Boris anti-Ken coverage in The Evening Standard gave to the clown when he was running for Mayor. His threat now not to fill the position until what he assumes to be a change of government, so that a Tory chum can wave the appointment through, reveals the kind of arrogance we may grow more familiar with from the Bullingdon-Bollinger classes. But is this scandal raging across our media, as any suggestion of Ken Livingstone nepotism or cronyism used to? Is it hell.
Second, yesterday’s story in The Guardian that Gideon Osborne, the shadow chancellor who would like to be called George, had got his sums all wrong when he made up his pensions policy in the car on the way to conference. How wrong? Oh, just three billion. So this man, widely lauded throughout the press in the past week, for having set out tough choices (when in fact he barely covered a fraction of the black hole he claims to exist in this awful economy he claims to be on the point of inheriting) in fact got his sums wrong on the most basic calculations he was making. All over the Sunday papers? Er, no.
And third, the row over Cameron’s links to far right politicians in Europe, whose company and politics he prefers to those of mainstream and powerful leaders of the right like Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. To be fair to The Observer they are continuing to drive at this one and long may they continue to do so. But what about the rest of the media? Think back to the outrage and the fury when some on the Labour left met far left leaders or apologists for IRA violence, for example. This, to me, is the equivalent.
But it is worse, because it is the leadership, a wannabee Prime Minister and his would-be foreign secretary William Hague, who are getting into bed with people they should be having nothing to do with. David Miliband is doing a good job on this. But the Tories having pretty much ended bipartisanship on foreign policy – indeed Hague as leader, grossly irresponsibly, came close to doing so on Northern Ireland at times – David should get even more political. Get out some notepaper and write to every major leader in the world to warn them what to expect if this lot get voted back in. If our media won’t pick it up properly now, they might if it becomes an issue in Washington, Beijing, Paris, Berlin. The fact that commentators think the Tories are now coming under greater media pressure and scrutiny merely underlines the point I’ve long been making about double standards.