The story of Tuesday’s papers is about positioning for the Comprehensive Spending Review, and the issue of defence dominates all but one of the papers.
The Financial Times and The Guardian both splash with what will probably be the lead story tomorrow, that the government will delay renewing Trident by between three and five years. This would be, for Lib Dems, a relatively big coup if they got it through. The Guardian’s headline “Cameron to delay Trident replacement” is less immediately catchy than the FT’s “Trident to be delayed by up to five years”
The Times and The Telegraph also have matching stories, related closely to the FT and the Guardian’s. The Times has “HMS Ignominious: £5bn carrier fiasco” and the Telegraph has “The Navy lark: new carrier will be sold after three years.” The story is that the navy’s £3bn aircraft carriers will be closed after three years, and that Britain will not have an effective aircraft carrier equipped with fighter jets until 2020.
All four of the papers use almost exclusively off-record sources, meaning that the government’s press office has been briefing like crazy. And it is no doubt that Fleet Street think that the defence cuts will be the key battle ground of the Strategic Defence Review – all the editors have decided that, despite the fact that all their competitors have the same splash, it is a big enough story for them to go with it.
The Independent, as it often is, is the exception to the rule – leading not with defence cut but a campaigning headline about the ‘Backlash about the Big Business society.’ The front page pictures some of the prominent businessmen who have backed the coalition government’s cuts along with their wages, all of which are over £300,000 and which range up to £6,468,000 for Ben Gordon – chief executive of Mothercare. As a visual tool I think it is more effective than many of the Indy’s front pages and very clearly makes a point. The story inside, on pages 4-5, is less powerful. The article argues that a number of business people who are backing the cuts have also given money to the Conservatives and cites Lord Wolfson of Next and Sir Christopher Gent of GSK as the worst offenders. This is not really news to most people. Before the election there was criticism of the relationship between big business and the Conservatives and this hasn’t changed.
What this story reflects, I feel, is the paper positioning itself for the coming spending cuts battle. It is trying to forge a niche for itself in which it is primarily a source of opinion, a campaigning paper, the paper of the anti-cuts brigade. In a way this is quite ingenuitive attempt to reposition its main weakness – the lack of news – as its strength, but you can’t help feeling it leaves it a little weak.