Down and dirty with the tabloid press

Kelvin MacKenzie’s phone must be in meltdown. Good! BURN him, BURN him! Ahem. The former Sun editor and fervent supporter of a 42-day detention limit has indicated that he will stand against David Davis in the forthcoming Haltemprice (how quickly we’ve all learned to spell that) & Howden by-election – putting many Lib Dems into the extraordinary position of not only hoping David Davis wins, but actively considering hitting the doorsteps to help him do it.

Yes, yes, Davis is a distinctly unreliable “libertarian” with some nasty socially conservative stances, but who can resist the idea of kicking Rupert Murdoch in the nuts? For myself, I’m glad I don’t live close enough to face this particular dilemma. MacKenzie’s decision is partly conditional on Labour not standing, it seems, but my feeling is that momentum – and strong-arming from his boss – will carry him into standing whether Labour field a candidate or not (and, increasingly as the hours tick by, it looks like not). Here’s his positive manifesto for a bright future:

The Sun is very, very hostile to David Davis because of his 28 day stance and The Sun has always been very up for 42 days and perhaps even 420 days.

The Tories v The Sun? Whatever next? How will Cameron play in the authoritarian redtops after he goes up to H&H to support Davis, as he has apparently promised to do? Naturally, the leftwing media scents blue blood on the carpet  and Mr Nick Robinson is in ever more danger of inflating with excitement like a great big bally balloon. But how is the right-wing media going to position itself in this bizarre stand-off?

No surprise that the Sun is gearing up its machine against Davis, whose perfidy is confirmed by the fact that “he quoted names from medieval history and ancient French”. A senior Tory aide is quoted as saying “We need this like a hole in the head. It’s an act of sabotage”. Worst of all “Mr Davis DID tell Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg on Wednesday night — hours before telling his own Shadow Cabinet colleagues. Furious Mr Cameron barely concealed his anger yesterday.” Consorting with the Lib Dems and discussing medieval etymology – it’s all an EU plot and YOU’RE paying for it!

The Sun does, however, appear to be at risk of diverging from a significant chunk of their own readership if the (approximately one-third-to-a-half supportive of Davis) comments on the issue are anything to go by. This tends to confirm my initial supposition, that any half-hearted belief people may hold on 42 days will be utterly swept away by the grand narrative of the Man Who Resigned On Principle.

The Hate Mail appears less certain, leading its piece with Davis’ challenge to “cowardly” Gordon Brown, but is nonetheless distancing itself from Davis’ “controversial” stance “amid claims that his shock resignation yesterday is backfiring.” And again, the comments at the bottom are along rather different lines. There’s a pattern here…

The Mirror, less invested in a Tory future, sees this as a leadership challenge, no more, no less, and characterises the split as follows:

And they [I dunno, the Wizards – AEM] predicted the Tories would be split into a pro-Davis camp fighting under the banner of preserving traditional British freedoms and Cameron loyalists who are terrified of being seen as soft on terror.

They’re all agreed on one thing – Cameron has been broadsided. This is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy coming from the right-wing press, because Cameron can now only play this one of two ways.

He can back Davis’ campaign, as he has implied he will do with a personal appearance, and risk the fury of the Murdoch empire. Or he can keep quiet, try not to draw attention to the fact that he and his front-bench team are, nominally, opposed to 42 days as well – and we get to go up to H&H, literally and metaphorically, and call him out.

If we don’t get him, the Sun will. Let’s hope it’s us, and that Clegg has some grave and head-shakey words to say about him over the coming weeks.

Liberty. We love it.

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This entry was posted in News and Parliamentary by-elections.


  • McKenzie is utter scum, beneath contempt. Let’s hope he gets wiped out.

    I really do think The Sun’s days are numbered. No one in 50 years will be “reading” filth like that.

  • As Alix points out, McKenzie will do precisely what Murdoch tells him.

    It is pretty much a truism to say that McKenzie is a loud-mouthed right-wing oaf, Jim Davidson without the bankruptcy order. How an alumnus of Dulwich College ever came to speak like that is one of life’s mysteries.

    Remember that Murdoch’s boss is “Big” Dick Cheney, or rather the elite that Cheney represents.

    Which brings us back to Cameron’s ideological minder, Mr Michael Gove MP. Note how on Question Time last night Gove expressed his opposition to relaxing sanctions against Cuba (not exactly relevant to the discussion). Only a devout neocon operative would think to say that.

    Davis has one redeming feature. He attended the same school as my father.

  • If Liberal Democrats actively help the Davis campaign i will be disgusted…this debate is so tawdry and deeply unprincipled it’s untrue…the enemy of your enemy is not always your friend (and thats why I dont agree with you Laurence, hoping McKenzie wins….)…

  • I know perfectly well why Cuba was relevant (albeit very marginally). The point I was making is the fact that Gove defends sanctions against Cuba because he is a dedicated neocon. The reason sanctions were imposed in the first place is because Cuba nationalised US assets and deprived rich American perverts of a cheap supply of child prostitutes. Gove presumably wants to return to those days.

  • Kelvin MacKenzie MP. It just doesn’t sound right somehow.

  • Well Laurence I dont agree with you but at least McKenzie can legitmately claim to be something Davis isn’t; a genuine independant with a genuinely independant platform….

  • I’d love to see a journo get kicked to pieces in a an election campaign. The scandals buried in the sordid little world of tabloid journalists make the westminster ones pale in comparison. About time one of them put their money where their mouth is even if it is for all the wrong reasons.

    Lets hope some juicy scandal destroys Kelvin’s reputation. I think the average voter have an even lower regard for pond scum like him than they do for the average politician.

  • Can I just say I hope people who think that this candidacy are somehow going to elevate the cause of civil liberties and help a cause that is ours are following this debate because it shows how tactically misguided those feelings are…

  • Come on play together nicely now children.

    Am I going to have to stand up for the poor and misunderstood Rupert Murdoch (I know its not a very fashionable activity)?

    Kelvin MacKenzie is again being used as a pawn by the master player. Because Murdoch is a media mogul businessman his primary aims are to get his properties to be at the centre of the storm so that everybody talks about them – whether or not the content of it is to his personal taste – and he is patently succeeding.

    The Sun has also suddenly regained it’s influence by being talked about as the object of courtship by potential Prime Ministers, which indicates a shift of the focus of political debate away from the more middle-market and lessy gossipy sheets and notice we’ve suddenly gone silent (even if it’s only temporarily) on the Daily Mail…

    I’ve never understood why it is possible to make judgements about Murdoch’s personal politics from the hearsay which those associated with his various commercial entourages are professionally pressed into stating.

    Murdoch has, after all, succeeded in climbing the greasy pole by an order several magnitudes greater than Kelvin MacKenzie – we shouldn’t forget – partly because he is capable of separating belief from expediency.

    The old dictum ‘keep your friends close, and your enemies closer’ should explain the discrepancy – if only because it serves purpose better to get your enemies working for you, rather than against you.

    And let’s also not forget Murdoch is standing up for the principle of democracy by acting as guarantor for a candidate to run in any contest, whatever any of us may think of the candidate.

  • Aren’t we all highly enlivened by this story!

    I don’t think that’s much of a surprise considering how it has upset the settled state of the parties which existed up until now.

    All the parties have suddenly gained the opportunity to (re)claim ownership of their preferred political territory and it opens up new frontiers where settlement can be made or fought over.

    What I think it proves is that politics is an open forum where everything is contunually up for grabs and must be fought for and defended – we can make no assumptions with any certainty.

    The validity of political arguments is proved by their ability to motivate people – iow we can’t avoid making decisions, so it’s better that we are in the process at the beginning in order to be able to influence the framework of choice.

    Sunny, I think it helps to divide what you would have done/would do in his place from what you think about why DD did what he did and how it will play out. I’m guessing they aren’t completely the same thing.

  • Speak for yourself Alix – catch me after dark following one too many cocktails and the only thing you can be sure of is that it will all end unpredictably!

  • This is great. Either Davies will win an unconvincing victory and weaken the right, or even better, he’ll totally destroy Mackenzie and hopefully give the Sun a good kicking while he’s at it. If we’ve got our thinking caps on, we’ll join in and give them a clobbering as well. When the Lords chuck out the bill, Labour and the Murdoch press will be in disarray, and it’ll be a great day for civil liberties.

    How often does the Murdoch press present a huge fat target waiting to be blown away? Not often.

    Some of the comments here are astounding. If you were on a sinking ship, would you save the bad-tempered old guard dog or the plague rat?

  • Cheltenham Robin 13th Jun '08 - 10:05pm

    I’m just looking forward to the topless darts.

  • One supports a limit to detention and has made a stand against the constant infringement of civil liberties. The other supports detention without limit and endless state snooping powers.

    What’s to choose?

    And I’d not be averse to drastic surgery on the celeb-obsessed BBC.

  • I’m not buying into this Davies = bad fantasy. Being a disciplinarian and a social conservative isn’t necessarily inconsistent with being a civil libertarian. Saying otherwise is the sort of simplistic political analysis that we always complain bitterly about. The nasty right is as about as real as the liberal left.

  • I think its interesting that the press in the form of K MacK is finally entering the political fray in person.
    Up to now the press barons and their attack dogs have been content to stand on the sidelines – achieving their ends by personal attacks, threats and plain lies. The most grevious being the 30 years of poisonous exaggerations about Europe, such that now apparently the majority either don’t trust or actively want to leave the EU.
    I suppose one reason the ‘owned’ press are so down on Europe is that they can cow national governments, but the EU is the one institution that could threaten to regulate them or control their excesses.

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