Not quite Sun done: No, Murdoch hasn’t cut Boris Johnson loose — he’s hedging his bets.
... while The Telegraph will die in a bunker before it goes against its beloved boy.
|Mic Wright||Apr 29||2|
A major subplot of the cascading controversies around Boris Johnson, his fancy flat finagling, and his former advisor/unconvincing human impersonator Dominic Cummings, has been the position of the various newspapers and their puppetmaster proprietors.
While it’s clear that the Mail titles are all in on beating Johnson about the head — one of their classic (and empty) face turns in action — the Murdoch position has been a little less obvious and somewhat shifting.
A leader column in yesterday’s edition of The Sun — written before news of the electoral commission’s investigation into the funding of the Number 11 flat refurbishment — suggested that the paper was turning on the PM. And it led to some excitable analysis:
But that column — THE SUN SAYS Boris Johnson must end this saga and come clean about his flat refurbishment — was far from the screed that the headline promised. Beginning with mild criticism of the Prime Minister’s obdurate obfuscation…
THE longer the saga of Boris Johnson’s flat refit goes on the more absurd it gets.
He should come clean, detail exactly how much he was reportedly lent by the Tory Party and the terms. The more he shifts from foot to foot, the more ammunition he hands his enemies.
… it quickly shifted to a defending Johnson and attacking Labour and dismissing the importance of the whole story (despite dedicating front pages to it and, in fact, the dismissive leader column itself):
Labour already believe they have exposed the new Watergate.
In their frenzied desperation to topple the Brexit-backing Tory PM, they and the Boris-hating media have confected vast outrage over some pricey rolls of wallpaper in Downing Street.
They now treat every word from Dominic Cummings, whom they considered a liar until last week, as holy writ.
We doubt most voters could care less.
Today’s Sun leader column goes even further, under the hysterical headline THE SUN SAYS We’ll have lost our minds if our PM’s enemies contrive to topple him over some curtains.
After yesterday’s warning shot that it could shift position if the Prime Minister doesn’t keep pleasing it and its Emperor Palpatine-looking MF proprietor, it’s back with full-throated ‘Boris’ backing, presenting a fairground mirror recounting of the past year:
The world watching the war raging over Downing Street’s decor must think Britain has gone mad.
Boris Johnson brought about the most seismic political revolution in half a century by sheer force of personality and willpower, in defiance of a Remainer-dominated parliament.
Subject to arse-licking like that the Prime Minister’s ring must be shiny enough to be displayed in the window at Tiffany’s. The Sun is desperate for its readers to see Johnson as Han Solo when anyone with functioning eyes can see he’s more Jabba the Hutt with a Latin primer.
It continues the column — written without a byline as is the convention with leaders but bearing all the greasy fingerprints of Britain’s most consistent cuckold Harry Cole — by relitigating his Brexit ‘triumph’ and claiming he saved Britain from “the terrifying menace of an anti-Semitic Marxist Labour Party.” That the government has since gobbled up several policies from Corbyn’s 2019 manifesto goes unmentioned.
Robert Peston @PestonI’ve had an identical email asking me to leave poor Boris Johnson alone from five “different people” (well five different email accounts). Subject line changes, body of email identical. “What an utter disgrace that you are causing trouble about the Prime Minister”. Etc. Weird
But what about the catalogue of corruption and corpses that made up most of the Johnson administration’s response to Covid-19? Well… that’s not quite how The Sun sees it. Instead, it claims:
[Johnson] was slow off the mark when it fell to him to lead us through the gravest crisis since World War 1 — but then instigated a Covid vaccine programme which has saved countless lives and is the envy of the world.
Another way of looking at that might be to say that the bumptious bumbler was extremely lucky that vaccine researchers delivered and a number of bets paid off when they very well might not have. Could we get Michael Gove’s revised view on experts now?
The fantasyland review of 2020 continues with a sloppy blowjob for Risky Sunak…
Our economy, kept alive through successive shutdowns by an unprecedented rescue package he and his Chancellor put in place, is forecast to bounce back faster than any other nation’s in the G7.
… before some straight regurgitation of Conservative Party election material…
Large parts of Britain are set to benefit hugely from the levelling-up agenda which, after Covid, is his central aim.
… before finally getting to the point:
Why do we list all this? Because perspective has been lost. Because Labour and their media allies believe Boris should be sacked and punished over wallpaper and curtains — at a Downing Street flat he doesn’t even own.
We agree his answers on how he eventually paid for them have looked shifty. He should have come clean far earlier.
But we cannot stomach the confected hysteria of Keir Starmer and his MPs.
It is hard to watch those who spent three years shamefully plotting to overthrow the biggest democratic mandate in our history trying to claim the moral high ground over a bloke who may or may not have bent a rule to foot a decorating bill.
Nor can we forget the partisan role of the Remainer-heavy Electoral Commission, now probing Boris’s bills, in fruitlessly hounding Leave campaigners.
There is — as the tedious saying has it — a lot going on there.
The story is not about soft furnishings; it’s about soft corruption and hard cash. But it’s easier for The Sun to dismiss those things if they shift the focus from the money and onto ‘a bloke just trying to make a flat nicer for his missus and his kid’ as if Boris Johnson is not the Prime Minister but a guy from down the pub.
Similarly, the grafting of this story to Brexit — something leavers are just as obsessed with refighting as any ‘remoaner’ — is another cheap trick to minimise the questions around propriety. By claiming this is just a ‘remoaner plot’ and tarring the Electoral Commission as “Remainer-heavy”, as though anyone who voted Remain is now disqualified from public life, is the black arts at work.
The other aim of these leader columns and The Sun pushing the line that it’s all just a witch hunt is to push readers away from thoughts of the “let the bodies pile up” accusation which is far, far more damaging than the falsely attributed distaste for John Lewis or even the questions about who coughed up for the curtains. It won’t end up mattering because the bulk of the media will hammer the line that “ordinary people don’t care” and those that do won’t be heard.
The most ludicrous line in the whole leader though is the claim that the story is being driven by “Labour and their media allies”. The only papers which could be described as even intermittently friendly to Starmer’s Labour Party are The Guardian and The Daily Mirror and neither has been driving this story.
Instead, it’s been The Daily Mail — which has as much disdain for Starmer as The Sun — which has delivered frontpage kicks to the Prime Minister day after day, and was the original driving force behind the decorating scandal.
The front page of yesterday’s Mail howled, “From the paper leading the pack yet more searching questions!”, pushed the focus back onto a previous propriety probe about the Prime Minister’s free holiday to Mustique, and carried lines including “No 10 chief’s fury over decor scandal” and “‘I can’t afford it!’ — Boris’s cry to aides”. Inside it raised previous occasions that the Prime Minister had been “slow to declare interests” and continued its (justified) attacks on Allegra Stratton, who departed as press secretary this week.
Only in the bizarro world of Harry Cole’s brain could his former employers at the Mail be considered “Labour’s allies in the media”. They hate Keir Starmer; it’s just that right now they have decided they hate Boris Johnson even more. They don’t want the Conservative Party out of power, they simply want a different Tory in the hot seat — perhaps Priti Patel (Thatcher if you upped the evil and dialled down the elocution lessons) or the ghoulish Gove (whose Mail columnist wife Sarah Vine threw lit matches into the kerosene yesterday, telling the Today programme that “the Prime Minister can’t be expected to live in a skip”.)
The sad reality is that the Prime Minister and his team know that if they can hold it together — however barely as yesterday’s rage-flecked performance at PMQs suggested — the local elections will offer a reset of the narrative. Polling suggests Labour will not do very well and the Conservative Party will hold or win council seats that parties in government don’t usually have the luxury of relying upon. There’s even the strong possibility that Labour — having picked a grotesque candidate — will lose the Hartlepool by-election.
If all that comes to pass, the story will be “Starmer is stuck in first gear — could it be time for him to go?” while Johnson will once again be seen as an electoral asset and the ‘issues’ around unexplained payments, suspicious loans, and lavish refurbishment will fade into the background.
The Electoral Commission investigation? Well, it’s got fewer teeth than an ageing bloodhound and Johnson’s media outriders are already working extremely hard to minimise any fallout from even the mildest of criticisms.
And while The Times — the nominally ‘upmarket’ arm of Murdoch’s UK empire — reports today about Downing Street’s “concerns” that there is a “damaging paper trail”, that feels like a tactical leak in itself.
Adding layer upon layer of confusion into the tale of the Prime Minister, the wallpaper, and the woman he loves (for the moment) is likely to have the desired effect: Columnists and below-the-line commenters alike concluding that they’re ‘bored’ with the scandal now.
Meanwhile, The Sun still shines on golden boy Boris.
Tabloid history books stop at World War II and are actually just pamphlets full of crudely drawn cartoons about how brilliant Winston Churchill was.