Christopher Booker, the Telegraph columnist, died believing the Barclay brothers had ‘wrecked’ his newspaper and had a hand in wrecking the country.
Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay – the pro-Brexit owners of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph – have not for the first time come in for posthumous criticism. The celebrated columnist Christopher Booker, told me to refrain from disclosing until after his death that he believed the twins had “wrecked a great newspaper group, and, worse still, have had a hand in wrecking our country”.
Booker, who died last week at the age of 81, approved a story which I ran last year that drew attention to how his newspaper had relegated the column he had written for 27 years to a smaller slot in an obscure supplement. To add insult to injury, his old slot was given to Daniel Hannan, for whom he had utter contempt.
Booker himself agreed this quote which was attributed in the piece I ran to an unidentified colleague: “Christopher could see during the referendum campaign that the politicians who proposed to take us out of the EU – some of whom he knew – hadn’t a clue how to go about it and he wasn’t afraid to say that in his columns.
“The feeling on the paper was it would be too awkward to sack such a big name, so at first we tried to persuade him to give up writing about politics and try doing a countryside column. That didn’t work so we pushed him as far out of sight as possible. The editor couldn’t face doing it himself, so it was all done by minions.”
Allister Heath, the Sunday Telegraph’s editor and the brother-in-law of the former Vote Leave boss Matthew Elliott, professed on Twitter to have been “honoured” to have published Booker, which resulted in several responses accusing him of being “two-faced”.
Dr Richard North, who helped Booker with his column, wrote on his blog that he felt the Telegraph had treated his old friend “shabbily”. The first Telegraph journalist to attack the Barclays from beyond the grave was the former editor Lord Deedes, who authorised his biographer to say he felt they had put a “stinking mob” in charge of the newspaper group.
Mohammed Amin was last month ousted as chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum – a position he had held since 2014 – when he dared to cast doubt on Boris Johnson’s “moral fitness” to ascend to the premiership. The excellent Newsleaf website asked Amin if he had any advice for young immigrants who had lately moved to the UK.
His response: “At times, you may feel that you have moved to a country where the citizens have collectively gone mad. Be reassured. Only some of them have gone mad, and the illness is curable with time and goodwill. However, the patient needs protecting from carrying out severe self-harm such as a no-deal Brexit.”
David Smith made the point over the weekend that as Boris Johnson still hasn’t a clue how to deliver Brexit, those who are supporting him must be “similarly clueless”. Nothing remarkable about that, except that Smith is a columnist for the business section of the Sunday Times, which came out for Johnson in its news section on the same day. “Mr Johnson needs a fair wind and he will get it from us,” the newspaper declared.
Rupert Murdoch is an avowed Johnson backer and Martin Ivens, the Sunday Times editor, knows what side his bread is buttered. And so, incidentally, does Tim Shipman, the political editor, who will get the green light for yet another biography of Johnson only if he becomes PM.
The Tory no-dealer Johnny Mercer was subjected to some tough questions from Ian Hislop, about his alleged connections with a firm that failed, owing £236 million to 11,500 savers, when he appeared on Have I Got News For You.
Hislop pointed out that Mercer was making £85,000 for four hours a week from his second job – with alleged links to the company that failed – that caused Mercer to respond: “You get £20,000 for two hours tonight, don’t you?”
In the register of members’ interests, Mercer has just owned up to a payment of £1,500 for appearing on the show – £18,500 less than Hislop – but, in terms of providing value for money, maybe that’s about right.