Conservative Party’s cabinet

A few months down the line, he was criticised from all quarters including by members and ex-members of the party like Anne Widdecombe, Michael Heseltine and Crispin Blunt. Blunt resigned because he believed that Smith was a "handicap" to the party; Blunt of course was unaware that his comment would lead to a bombardment of insults in his direction -even from Duncan Smith critics. Thatcher concluded by lamenting the ineptitude of Smith calling him "the worst leader in the history of the Conservative Party"(Thatcher,2003). Broadsheets and tabloids emphasised the remark, which would mark the end of Smith's reign as leader.

A substantial amount of newspaper coverage in the past three months was aimed at the Conservative Party, its ministerial fallouts and declining popularity. Duncan Smith questioned party loyalty and urged MP's to "unite or die". After the 'overacted' performance of Smith at the Conservative Party Conference in October 2003, even right of centre broadsheets like the Daily Telegraph started denouncing him, predicting his resignation "within weeks"(Riddell, 2003). It was: "the most desperate day in the history of the Conservative Party" (Riddle, 2003).

One of the papers to retain its loyalty was The Sun who criticised the 'backstabbing' Tories for squandering time and urged them to continue denouncing the government. Left wing opposition has arisen in the form of tabloids such as the Daily Mirror, who sloganised the Conservative Party's cabinet reduction strategy -which gives double the department responsibility to some of the members. The Mirror branded them "The Dirty dozen". The Mirror's main concern was that some MP's were given the responsibility of two departments instead of one, indicating perhaps less emphasis on important issues like Health and Education.

Rupert Murdoch's media ownership could have had an impact on the Conservative leadership. Owning The Sun, The Times, The News of the World and the Sunday Times -as well as 35. 4 percent of BskyB, means that he is extremely powerful. He was a staunch Tory supporter in the 80's and 90's and has shifted his opinion of the leaders recently until the recent appointment of Michael Howard. Murdoch's position was cautious, but nevertheless significant in terms of media influence. "We will have to see how the Tory front bench looks," Murdoch told BBC television on Friday.

Although he was anti Euro, Murdoch at times backed Blair's Government, exemplifying the alternating ideological influences of media moguls over issues like party leadership. Failure to project his authority in the Commons was one of Smith's natural downfalls and perhaps undermines the argument that the media were responsible for his dismissal. In comparison with new leader Michael Howard, he did not have the ability to "alter his delivery while changing the mood of the house" (Fraser Nelson, 2003).

Nelson also points out the striking differences in the chamber atmosphere; Smith would encourage a few mumbled utterances from his backbenchers, whereas Howard managed to gain a rumbustuous approval in his duel with Blair Prime Ministers Question Time. Michael Howard has already claimed BBC approval for his debating skills in the chamber; for example, his fight against excessive business beaurocracy and taxes, his clash with Blair over the conduct of Children's Minister Margaret Hodge A recent Guardian poll suggested that the Conservatives still lagged behind Labour on 38%(The Guardian, 2003).

The alternating and sometimes contradictory multiplicity of 'facts' displayed by left and right wing papers will no doubt have an effect on their loyal readership. However because these statistics only represent part of our democratic society and could be manipulated, the public's attitude to the leadership of the Conservative Party could be misdirected. Instead of polls representing the public's attitude -'Reinforcement Theory'(Budge, 1998)- they might shape it into the image presented by the media rather than by theirs -'Agenda Setting Theory'(Budge, 1998). People's opinions are changeable.

Human beings think and act in crowds as well as individually, and if newspapers give the impression that most people have a particular viewpoint their willingness to have a more open mind can be affected. If a political party then makes mistakes and gains a reputation, not only will it find it difficult to detach itself from the previous deficiencies, but also it will inevitably be further damaged with the growth of investigative journalism. The issue of Iain Duncan Smith's leadership downfall therefore was not solely influenced by the media, but was a result of perennial antagonism against an ailing party.

The initial optimism of Michael Howard's leadership could diminish when he gets involved in policy confrontation, and the media continue with their routine cynicism -which can influence the publics opinion on party leadership. 

REFERENCES

  • Unknown Authorship, Scotland on Sunday, 2001 Fraser Nelson, Scotland on Sunday, 2003
  • Margaret Thatcher, Daily Mail, September, 2001 Margaret Thatcher, Daily Mail, September, 2003
  • Peter Riddell, The Times,2003 Budge I, 2001, The New British Politics(Second Edition), Media Theories,
  • Longman 2001, page 294-297 Unknown Authorship, 2003, http://uk.news.yahoo.com