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Will Murdoch snap up the Spectator?

The latest scandals and gossip from Westminster and Fleet Street

Rupert Murdoch denies that Fox News “as an entity” endorsed lies, despite shelling out a settlement figure of $787.5m. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Gett

Lloyds Bank, which seized control of the Telegraph and Spectator titles after a £1bn loan they made to the Barclay family turned bad, face a new headache. Fraser Nelson, the Spectator’s editor – credited with making the title a major commercial success – has made it clear that if any future owners do not meet with his approval, he will quit and take his core team with him to set up a rival right wing weekly of his own.

As I reported, Rupert Murdoch has expressed an interest in the Spectator, for which he is said to be willing to stump up £70m, but only if it can be decoupled from the Telegraph titles. These, I am told, are highly leveraged and not worth anywhere near the £400m to £600m range that has been widely reported.

Perhaps mindful of this, Lord Rothermere, the Daily Mail proprietor who has long been seen as the obvious suitor for the Telegraph, has told friends he would only be willing to acquire it as part of a consortium. “Rothermere is only interested in the Telegraph’s 750,000 paying subscribers, as his own operation has been struggling for some time to get anywhere near a figure like that,” one insider tells me. “The last thing he wants is to be saddled with another ailing print title when he’s already rumoured to be thinking about shutting down the Mail on Sunday in its physical form. None of the old arguments about synergies in relation to newsprint costs and printing presses make much sense in a digital age.”

Rothermere is said to have been talking to the Saudi Sultan Muhammad Abuljadayel, who had, as I reported, been in abortive talks to buy the titles in 2018 with the London Evening Standard owner Lord Lebedev. The war in Ukraine and recent disclosures in a Channel 4 documentary about his relationship with Boris Johnson have persuaded Lebedev this is not the time to involve himself in any further high-profile media acquisitions.

Forgotten, but not gone, Nadine Dorries may now be an infrequent visitor to the Commons, and yet she is still drawing her £84,000 salary for supposedly representing the good people of Mid Bedfordshire. That is topped up by her still-to-be declared income from GB News – reckoned to be well into six figures – and a recent cheque from Rupert Murdoch’s HarperCollins imprint for £20,500 as a partial advance for her take on the decline and fall of her beloved Boris Johnson.

It has been more than a month since Dorries announced she was resigning as an MP “with immediate effect”, and among her constituents in Mid Bedfordshire their MP’s long farewell is a source of some consternation. The last time her name appeared on her local BedfordshireLive website it was beside the plaintive question: “Has she officially gone?”

Say what you like about Theresa May, but she had at least some sense of propriety that was seldom if ever manifest in her successors. She made it a rule, for instance, not to allow donors to pay for any of her trips at home or abroad lest they bring into question her motivations for travelling in the first place.

Rishi Sunak, like Boris Johnson before him, has no such qualms. Both are used to living the high life and have become accustomed to travelling in private jets and helicopters that are hard to justify when the taxpayer is stumping up for them. Sunak, however, is already outdoing even Johnson.

The Cabinet Office has just disclosed he spent £100,000 on travel for April and May alone. The figures that have been provided beg as many questions as they answer, but he has spent £36,000 on domestic travel as well as £35,008 on unspecified foreign trips.

Sunak has taken £54,418 from private donors over the same two-month period. These include Balderton Medical Consultants, one Richard David Harpin and Knaresborough Aviation. The media outfit MGI London gifted him £9,300 to take a helicopter from “a Conservative Party event on May 25.”

Balderton has ties with the mysterious Akhil Triapathi, the donor initially listed by Sunak on his register of interest as the supplier of £38,500 worth of air travel in April, but subsequently removed.

As with Brexit, Boris Johnson’s Daily Mail column is not only ruinously expensive, but also increasingly embarrassing. Johnson’s latest attack on the mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s “odious” ultra low emission zones for drivers wilfully neglected the fact he had himself, when he was mayor of London in 2015, introduced it, saying it was an “essential step to help improve air quality” in the capital.

Lord Rothermere, the Mail’s owner, is not by all accounts happy that he has been committed by Ted Verity, the Mail’s editor, to paying Johnson £1m for the appallingly bad column over two years (with apparently first dibs on his upcoming memoirs). The problem is, Johnson is contractually allowed to write what he wants, unlike when he was at the Telegraph, where the comment desk had the right to throw his columns back at him when they weren’t good enough.

I am told the stock market value of Verity, who has been spotted out and about enjoying the social season a great deal this summer, has been falling sharply. Should Rothermere decide to dispense with his services – as he did with Geordie Greig in 2021 – it is not clear who would replace him. It would be sensible but too embarrassing to bring back Greig, whose only crime was to be too critical of then prime minister Boris Johnson.

Since it will almost certainly be the last chance to register their feelings about Brexit before the general election – and to send a clear message to Sir Keir Starmer – the National Rejoin March on September 23 looks set to be the mother of all marches.

Peter Corr, who co-founded the march, tells me: “On social media, posts promoting it are over 20 times more ‘popular’ than last year, giving us much hope for an even bigger turnout. There are already coaches booked from around the country to bring people to London on the day cheaply.”

As a lorry driver, Corr resents the tired old arguments that Remain is about a liberal elite who can’t accept defeat. He says almost all those coming will be working class, as Brexit has hit them the hardest.

He adds: “The cost-of-living crisis is a real thing for most ‘normal’ people. We really feel it when shopping, or buying electric/gas or school uniforms for the kids. Or, well, anything. And we’re not stupid, we know a big chunk of UK inflation is caused by Brexit and can only be fixed by rejoining the EU. Not everything bad happening in the UK is caused by Brexit, but everything bad happening in the UK is only made worse by Brexit. I am ex-army so I have service to my country in my bones, and, as I see it, anything I can do to hasten the UK rejoining the EU is a service to my country.”

He added that his attempts to get David Lammy, Labour’s former Remainer-in-chief, to come to the event have gone unanswered.

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