Why Tory hacks have got it in for George Osborne
Why are Tory journalists so furious about benefit cuts? Because they're going to suffer as much as anyone
The sense of anguish among Conservative-supporting journalists was something to behold yesterday, with Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph hacks reacting in horror to Chancellor George Osborne's decision to cut child benefit for anyone paying higher rate tax.
Following the announcement of the move during the morning news programmes, blogs and Twitter - the main conduits of political hacks and diarists these days, it seems - were abuzz with Tory journalists slamming the proposal.
Benedict Brogan, the Daily Telegraph's deputy editor, said the move was "brutal" and would be a "whacking great hit" on a single-income middle-class family with four children.
Paul Waugh, the Evening Standard's deputy political editor, asked on Twitter "Will the middle-classes rebel?" while pointing out that a family with three children would lose £2,449 a year.
The hacks didn't stop there. During an uproarious briefing by Osborne's economics and politics Spads (special political advisors) Rupert Harrison and Mesh Chhabra, media umbrage continued as journalists hammered the luckless aides, forcing Harrison to admit that it would be a better situation for someone to earn £43,000 than two grand more. So much for aspiration.
Later, Richard O'Hagan of the Daily Mail joined the battle. "There are so many flaws with the Chancellor's planned changes to child benefit that it would take until his retirement to list them all here," he wrote.
It was the Daily Mirror's political editor, Kevin Maguire, who put his finger on the reason for all this fury when he cheekily suggested that Waugh's anger was due to his being exactly the sort of comfortably-off, middle-class welfare recipient the Chancellor is after.
While Waugh and the others claimed to be championing the hard-working "squeezed middle", what was really in play here was good old-fashioned vested interest.
For it doesn't take a genius to work out that a senior journalist on a national newspaper will be taking home quite a bit more than £44,000 a year - the higher rate threshold.
Take into account the long and unsocial hours that the political beat entails, and you're more than likely to be looking at a middle-age man with a stay-at-home wife looking after the family - the exact group most threatened by Osborne's benefit changes.
It's not the first time that the coverage of an important national issue has been distorted by the personal prejudices of this select group who interpret the news for millions. That there is a national debate over private education - which covers only seven per cent of British schoolchildren – simply reflects the fact that a high proportion of media executives make use of private schools.
If David Cameron wants his party's next big idea to escape similar opprobrium, he might want to take a leaf out of Tony Blair's book.
Blair and his chief press aide Alastair Campbell were perpetually aware that much of their intended message was lost through the politicised prism of the media. By the time a policy initiative reached the public, it had been skewed by the inherent bias of a publication such as the Daily Mail and lost its impact.
So they decided to talk over the heads of the newspapers directly to the public by appearing on TV programmes such as Richard and Judy or Des O'Connor's afternoon show.
Those particular chat shows may no longer be open for business, but there's no end of similar programmes that would be delighted to have the PM on as a guest, any time he chooses. ·
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