What can we distil from a single issue of the Daily Mail?
Yesterday’s Daily Mail lays out the Conservative strategy against Labour in the upcoming election: appealing to xenophobia, anti-European sentiment, and framing climate change as an economic rather than humanitarian issue.
Imagine for a moment you have been rowing round the world single-handedly for the past few months and the only news you have been interested in are the weather forecasts.
You finally pull your small boat up on the south coast of England, jostling your way among all the other small boats, and find that in the nearest newsagent the only national newspaper left is a copy of the Daily Mail.
You are interested in politics and the coming general election.
Rather like Kremlinologists reading Pravda in the old days, how much can you glean from yesterday’s (Tuesday) perfectly ordinary copy of the Mail about what the political future is likely to hold?
The Mail always has, and always will support the Conservatives and support whatever leader they choose to elect. This remains true however fast the doors of 10 Downing Street revolve or however uneven the quality of leadership offered turns out to be.
All that is a given, of course. But can you deduce from the choice of stories and their presentation the outlines of a roadmap, as the term increasingly says, leading to the next election?
The splash is quite revealing in that respect.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman told the American Enterprise Institute in Washington that she wants a complete revision of the 1951 UN Refugees Convention, a convention enthusiastically supported by the UK at the time. In particular she believes that the threshold for asylum claims has become too low and has created “an absurd and unsustainable” system.
Simply being gay, or a woman, fearful of discrimination, should no longer be grounds for asylum, Braverman believes.
Never mind that there are countries where being gay can result in long prison sentences or even the death penalty, and we know what can happen to women in Iran or Afghanistan; the Daily Mail heartily agrees with the Braverman approach.
“We applaud Mrs Braverman’s tough words today in calling for a shake-up of this out-dated convention,” argued the Mail before attacking elastic interpretations by right-on judges.
Playing well with elderly readership
There will be howls of protest from the “usual suspects” — Labour, the Whitehall “Blob”, leftie lawyers and charities. All will be demonised in the election campaign.
Never mind that a convention takes years to create or even modify, assuming that anyone apart from the British Conservative government wants to change it in the first place.
We can therefore predict that curbing the arrival of refugees is going to play high up the Conservatives agenda.
They are the new small boats whose arrival Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has so signally failed to stop as promised.
A similar theme is amplified on the same page with a promise, also from Mrs Braverman, to make sweeping changes to the visa system to bar tens of thousands of family members accompanying workers coming to the UK.
That should help with the recruitment of vitally necessary care workers coming to this country.
All of this will play well with the xenophobic attitudes of the mainly elderly Mail readership and will clearly be given plenty of attention in the election campaign.
Net zero changes ‘barely shifting the dial’ for Conservatives
Just below the Suella coverage is a modest piece that is quite revealing about other likely candidates — the watering down of the plans for early implementation of net zero to address climate change, and attacks on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s willingness to be civil to French President Macron on Europe.
These are being suggested as the reasons why Labour’s lead over the Conservatives has shrunk in the latest poll.
Last week, Sunak famously “put the brakes on the race” to net zero and warned that imposing “unacceptable costs” on families risked wrecking support for saving the planet. Naturally, the Daily Mail is hugely supportive of such a move, arguing that although action must be taken, the planet will not be saved “by bankrupting Britain.”
In a clear drawing up of political battle lines, Starmer has vowed to reverse the Sunak manoeuvre on net zero, which many have seen as a piece of Conservative opportunism. Did it stem from the Conservatives unexpectedly holding Uxbridge by successfully attacking the Conservative policy of Ultra Low Emission Zones (Ulez)?
According to yesterday’s Mail, Starmer has triggered alarm over his stance on Brexit by revealing that Labour “don’t want to diverge” from EU rules.
The Deltapoll found that the Conservatives had jumped by five percentage points in the past 10 days to 28%, with Labour on 48% and the Lib Dems on 10%.
“Strategists on both sides will now look to see whether the latest findings are a blip or a sign that the Conservatives are finally starting to close the gap,” the Mail wonders.
In fact Sir John Curtice, the distinguished political and polling expert, believes that the Sunak net zero effort has barely shifted the dial and that once the temporary variations are blown away, the underlying Labour lead remains at a solid 17%.
Targeting the civil service
Another small Mail article tucked away on page six was also very revealing. After news that Sunak will not beak the triple lock on pensions came the revelations that the Government will not after all get rid of the “hated” inheritance tax, at least for now, something that was widely suggested at the weekend.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will not cut inheritance tax in his mini-budget on 22 November, the paper announced. According to the Mail, the focus was still on cutting inflation and that it would be virtually impossible to cut taxes this year.
That does not exclude a last-minute cynical outbreak of tax-cutting before the election.
It won’t be a frontline policy, but a careful reading of the Mail suggests that attacks on the civil service, or “The Blob” as the paper insists on calling the nearly 500,000 strong body, with continue.
The Mail has taken great exception to the fact that following Sir Keir’s hiring of top civil servant Sue Gray, Labour has also hired as many as a dozen civil servants to work for the party as it prepares for Government.
This means of course that Labour is “recklessly” eroding civil service impartiality.
Strange, because people can go to work anywhere they want after resigning and the Daily Mail did not fulminate about civil servants going to work for the Conservatives as they are entitled to do.
So, overall what can we distil from a single issue of the Daily Mail?
The Conservatives will accuse Labour of being soft on refugees and asylum seekers, far too ready to cosy up to Europe and “betray” Brexit, and far too harsh in imposing draconian climate change obligations on the electorate.
The hope for them is that this will all be enough to distract voters from the cost-of-living crisis, the parlous state of the NHS, and sewage decorating most of the rivers and beaches of the UK.
Raymond Snoddy is a media consultant, national newspaper columnist and former presenter of NewsWatch on BBC News. He writes for The Media Leader on Wednesdays — read his column here.