Peter Hitchens’s aficionados will have noticed that his Mail on Sunday column has not appeared for two weeks. Notably, the critical last two weeks of the general election campaign. A funny time you might think for the scourge of the political establishment to go missing. Has he been sent packing and if so why?
At any other time such a strange turn of events would have invited more comment. But so far only the Spectator’s Steerpike blog and the Independent’s election diarist Andy McSmith have spotted the absence of his weekly tirade and asked why:
Is the Daily Mail censoring its own star columnists to help Cameron get re-elected? McSmith ventured while Steerpike noted that: “the columnist, who has been vocal about his disdain for David Cameron, tweeted his pre-election column from five years ago on Monday” .
In this article from 2010, Hitchens had asked his readers, ‘not to fall for the shimmering, greasy, cynical fraud which is the Cameron project’.
So far no explanation has been offered by the MoS. Mr Hitchens himself continues to apologise to those who’ve contacted him for being unable to comment. Medialand rumour has it that he is on holiday. However, when I trawled back through yesterday’s copy I found James Forsyth’s column in place of Hitchens’s but none of the usual ‘Peter Hitchens is on holiday’ at the bottom of the page.
What all this means – whether he’s temporarily been silenced as too much of an embarrassment during the Mail on Sunday’s determinedly pro-Cameron election pitch, or whether his services have been dispensed with altogether, no doubt we will soon find out.
You could argue that its all a bit of backhanded complement to Hitchens. The MoS must really have feared that his contempt for Cameron and the Cameroon project might prove a spoiler for their unremitting pro-Cameron stance. And that in turn means they think their readers really do listen to him. I certainly know many who do. Controversial through he is, he is respected across the board for his fierce independence, intellect and honesty.
That is why it will be a sad day if this means there is no place left for the last vigorously social conservative, pro-Christian commentator anywhere in Fleet Street. And he is the last man standing on this front – the last mainstream journalistic defender of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
It’s deeply ironic. Just as the country returns to its conservative roots (and common sense) the once robustly traditional Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday that used to defend and promote these values, now appear to be coming out for metropolitan liberals – something they’ve denigrated in the past. You can see it in their tranche of recently appointed writers – from Rachel Johnson to Sarah Vine (aka Mrs Michael Gove).
The portents have been around for a while. Firstly, Melanie Phillips’s page went. (Her lateral arabesque to The Times has resulted in a far more muted column). Then Simon Heffer’s Saturday page in the Daily Mail first moved ever further to the back of the book and then disappeared altogether. Heffer will reappear in The Daily Telegraph next month. Now it seems it is Hitchens’s turn. Who now will be left to speak to the values that we, as Brits, should aspire to? Who will be able to say what these values really are?
If Associated Newspapers want to turn away their readers and towards Ukip, all I can say is that this is the way to go. But they will get rid of Hitchens at their peril. They might take a lesson from the defeat of the politician they were so rightly determined to keep out of office – Ed Miliband.
He, and Labour, were punished for losing touch with their voters; for becoming ‘a metropolitan entity, obsessed with identity politics and supported by white middle-class liberals in London’, as Rod Liddle so cogently described it in his Sunday Times column last weekend..
That the Conservatives managed to avoid that characterisation themselves over the election period is entirely thanks to Lynton Crosby’s efforts to keep the election message traditionally conservative. No mention of modernisation, gay marriage, or vote blue go green in Crosby’s campaign.
As Nick Wood wrote yesterday, the Wizard of Oz saved Cameron’s bacon. Dave should not forget it, nor should Associated Newspapers. For much of Cameroon conservatism is pretty skin deep. And when the public wake up to that again they could depart in droves – back to Ukip that many of them denied, at the 11th hour for fear of a Sturgeon/Miliband nightmare becoming reality.