Ruthlessness is the characteristic that defines the Conservative hierarchy once they realise a party leader is a dud and must be ditched.
For cheerleaders on the Tory tabloids, there has to be a smart about turn: from hero to zero, as headline writers and columnists eat their words and hail a new saviour.
Standing on their heads is a routine Fleet Street’s finest have perfected over decades, especially when their sleight of hand can be disguised, or perhaps explained away, by a hectic pace of events in Downing Street and Westminster.
When it comes to the defenestration of the powerful, the Daily Mail has perhaps no equal in the national press so full marks to Liz Gerard for her page-turning tale: Trussed Up: How the Daily Mail tied itself in knots over the Tory leadership.
With her deft selection of contrasting and contradictory front-page leads and feature spreads, she punctures the pomposity of a newspaper that likes to claim it commands the pinnacle of British journalism.
Trussed Up is Gerard’s rollicking account of the editorial summersaults that were required by the Daily Mail as it hailed and then denounced the UK’s shortest serving Prime Minister.
Day-by-day, after Boris Johnson’s resignation, the front-page splashes glorified Liz Truss and savaged Rishi Sunak, only to be contradicted as her Premiership fell apart.
Coming to terms with three different Conservative Prime Ministers within less than four months tested the editorial ingenuity of the ever-loyal Daily Mail to the point of destruction, but Gerard fillets her catch almost with a degree of affection as she dissects more than 100 news reports and editorials.
Her book is packed with page after page of colourful illustrations of front pages, feature articles, and OpEd columns together with a pacey commentary that captures the frenzied hyperbole of Mailspeak.
For a student of the language of popular journalism Gerrard identifies and explains the meaning of a lexicon of adjectives and phrases.
Her decoding of favourites such as backlash, troubling dossier, cynical stitch-up and so on, is delivered with a wry smile.
She identifies a Daily Mail bingo card of must-have words that have a one-in-ten chance of appearing in any editorial or OpEd column related to the Tory leadership.
Gerard has great fun with my personal bete noire – senior Tories – which she says has the fluid definition of someone in authority, perhaps an ex-minister or veteran MP, but which in my experience was often cover for a fictitious anonymous quote.
Having spent a lifetime in newspapers, including many years as a night editor at The Times, and becoming a founder judge of the British Journalism Awards, Gerard clearly sympathised with Daily Mail staffers as they toiled away having to shape their coverage to reflect that day’s editorial diktat.
After enduring countless hours out on assignment with journalists from the Daily Mail and other tabloids I often found myself commiserating with their plight.
While I faced the immediate deadlines of a broadcaster, they were often having to wait to hear from the backbench about the line that their paper intended to take. Until they knew the direction, and how hard to go, they could not start filing their copy.
Feature writers told me the hardest taskmaster was always the Daily Mail. Once commissioned to write an OpEd and briefed on the objective of the piece, there was almost always pressure to go further.
One said it was like riding a shark: a writer might only want to go so far, but that was rarely enough, there had to be blood on the floor.
Gerard’s compilation of the Daily Mail’s contortions over Truss’s brief tenure of 10 Downing Street is a masterclass of the challenges facing journalists having to write to order.
Readers will wish they could have been a fly on the wall as the Mail’s backbench sharks showed no mercy for the paper’s columnists and leader writers amid the twists and turns of unprecedented Tory turbulence.
Trussed Up: How the Daily Mail tied itself in knots over the Tory leadership, by Liz Gerard, Bite-Sized Books.
Illustrations Daily Mail, 30.9.2022; 4.10.2022; 18.10.2022; 17.10.2022