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Raymond Snoddy 

The demise of Andrea Leadsom is proof of the power of newspapers

The demise of Andrea Leadsom is proof of the power of newspapers

From the recent Tory leadership race, to the Chilcot inquiry and Iraq war, newspapers still very much set the political agenda, writes Raymond Snoddy - but not always for good...

When newspapers are good they are very, very good. But when they are bad...

We have had an excellent example in the past few days, in a febrile political situation where anything could have happened, of the national press being good and saving the UK from being saddled with a totally unsuitable, inexperienced Prime Minister. Or even much worse.

In the end it was almost certainly the Tory Grandees who persuaded Andrea Leadsom to fall on her sword. But it was the newspapers with accurate, factual reporting on everything, from her CV to her attitudes to motherhood, that made her candidature for the leadership of the Conservative, and with it the keys to Number 10, untenable.

Had it not been so, there would have been more than a chance that a junior energy minister, whose only previous claim to fame had been doing moderately well in the televised referendum debates, could have attracted the majority of votes from the "electorate" - the 150,000 Conservative Party members.

After all, she was the last Brexiteer standing after a remarkable outburst of political bloodletting, and you had to read the Sunday Times to know she was said to be known as "Andrea Loathsome" in the Leave campaign, or that she had to be rehearsed to within an inch of her life for those debates.

In this particular battle the main popular Brexit nationals, the Daily Mail and the Sun came out early and enthusiastically for Theresa May.

Naturally on big picture issues such as this, former Sun editor and now Sun columnist Kelvin MacKenzie ploughs his own inimitable furrow.

First he expressed "buyers remorse" after setting out 10 reasons why Sun readers should vote for Brexit.

Then he surpassed even his own high standards a few hours before Mrs Leadsom's humiliating withdrawal.

Under the headline: "Andrea Will Be Next PM", Kelvin wrote that Andrea Leadsom was "playing an absolute blinder" in her campaign to win the Conservative crown.

"I am certain she is to be our next Prime Minister," added MacKenzie, obviously oblivious to the fact that the Sun was backing a very different horse - and a few other things as well.

A campaign medal should go to the Mail on Sunday for revealing that in a formal speech in 2013 Mrs Leadsom had stated unequivocally that leaving the EU would be "an economic disaster". Naturally her people claimed she had been quoted out of context.

The most powerful push in derailing what might have become a bandwagon in the post-facts era came from The Times. The paper simply checked out her CV and found evidence that went far beyond airbrushing into the realms of fantasy.

Her claim that she had been part of a small team that helped the Bank of England governor Eddie George deal with the collapse of Barings turned out to be little more than ringing a few people from her office as dozens of others had done. She had not been running the bank's investment team but had been "deputy financial institutions director" which in the world of inflated banking titles was close to zippo.

Newspapers also raised the issue of whether it was God who had personally pointed the devout Christian in the direction of the Tory leadership, although no satisfactory answer was ever received.

Very few newspapers came out well from the Iraq war crisis - save perhaps for The Independent"

It was Times journalist Rachel Sylvester who did the business with her "Being a mother gives me the edge on May" splash.

The inept interview given without any aide present at the Costa Café branch in Milton Keynes railway station revealed the full depths of her naivety.

It was bad enough of her to use her motherhood status as a political stick with which to beat Theresa May while all the time denying she was doing any such thing. She then made it much worse by trying to deny she had said it, deploying our old friend "out of context" again, before denouncing "the gutter press" for printing such a thing and for how the information was used.

Luckily the interview was taped and The Times issued both the transcript and the audio. And that was the end of that.

When the press are bad they can be very bad. Very few newspapers came out well from the Iraq war crisis - save perhaps for The Independent, no longer with us in print.

Luckily for the press the Chilcot report, finally published in the midst of another very different political crisis, had little to say about the media coverage. It was never part of Chilcot's agenda.

The report, covered in its full glory by the national press, concentrated unsurprisingly on the failings of Prime Minister Tony Blair, the intelligence services and the generals.

This does not disguise the fact that the press and Rupert Murdoch in particular were enthusiastic supporters of the war.

Murdoch told the Australian magazine The Bulletin: "We can't back down now, where you hand over the whole of the Middle East to Saddam...I think Bush is acting very morally."

As for Tony Blair: "I think Tony is extraordinary courageous and strong," Murdoch said.

By one of those amazing coincidences all 175 Murdoch editors around the world somehow managed to come to the same conclusion - including the then editor of The Times, Robert Thomson.

As Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail told the Leveson inquiry, he wasn't sure that Prime Minister Blair or the Government would have been able to take the British people to war without the support of the Murdoch papers.

The online Indy remembered recently that when Liberal Democrats leader Charles Kennedy opposed the war, the Sun ran his picture on the front page with a snake in the background.

The caption read: "Spot the difference. One is a spineless reptile. The other is a poisonous snake."

The press was not in the dock over the Iraq war at the Chilcot, inquiry but given the number of deaths that resulted, at the very least a time of reflection would be beneficial.

If anything like it should ever happen again, independent, critical analysis should be the order of the day from newspapers rather than mindless cheer-leading.

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