Why Downing Street's spinners should be scared of the Mirror and (yes) the Express

Who’d be a Treasury minister amid this mess? Or a Square Mile spin doctor? Well, OK — the aforementioned people made their bed long ago. Now they’re going to have to lie in it.

Yesterday, The Sun missed a trick with a front page splash entitled “Crash, Bang, Wallop.” This appeared to suggest that the stock market’s collapse was just another joyride at Alton Towers. Or a scary ghost story.

Cheap thrills are quickly forgotten. Accordingly, this morning, The Bun devoted front page space to Chelsea, Liverpool, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Brown and a Marine crippled in Afghanistan. Apparently, the markets no longer exist.

It was the Daily Mirror that opened up a vein of anti-City sentiment that was yearning to see the light of day.

Next to a psychotic-looking Dick Fuld (chief executive of Lehman Brothers), the headline read: “Gorilla Of Greed”. The copy explained:

This is the super-rich banker known as the Gorilla whose greedy bungling will send our mortgage bills spiraling again.

This morning, The Daily Express has taken the Mirror‘s hint and improved on it. The headline? “Don’t let the spivs destroy Britain”.

There is mounting anger in Middle Britain at the excesses of the City of London where huge fortunes have been made by bankers on the back of reckless gambles with the life savings of small investors.

Unless action is taken to stop all these spivs in their tracks, decent people will lose faith in the dynamism of free enterprise and the moral imperative of striving for self-reliance.

It is a horrible thought but the greed of a few bankers and corporate fat cats could hand an undeserved lifeline to the failed creed of State socialism. It must not be allowed to happen.

From the opposite end of the political spectrum to the Mirror, this sounds rather like something from Weimar Germany, circa 1933. (A place and time well-known to Lord Beaverbrook.)

Are both ends closing in upon the middle ground occupied by Gordon Brown and the regulators? Perhaps.

It’s still early days, though. You can tell this because the Mail is playing with the populist urge, but restraining it, too. This morning, the paper published a piece under the headline: “Spivs, sharks and why the champagne corks were popping on Meltdown Monday”.

Paul Bracchi’s colour piece focuses upon “a group of men in expensive suits” eating at Caprice on Sunday night.

The copy is littered with pictures of Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko — and the 90s vintage City boy traders known as the Flaming Ferraris.

These days, both seem as threatening as the contents of a Take That CD. But the Mail‘s copy does succeed in painting the guests at Le Caprice as the kind of grotesque magnates who populated German Expressionist canvases in the 1920s and 1930s.

Predictably, the diners were holding Blackberrys. According to Bracchi, they were checking up on news about the “impending collapse of the world’s fourth biggest investment bank”.

Le Caprice is in Mayfair. And Mayfair is home to half the hedge funds in London. Bracchi continues:

Unlike almost everyone else, they wanted Lehmans to crash; hence, the febrile atmosphere around their table. By the time they had drunk their last bottle of bubbly they knew they were about to make a killing.

Yep. As Bracchi advises us, the short-selling associated with these Mayfair-based “vultures” is “the very inverse, both practically and morally, of normal share trading”.

At the Mirror and the Express, anti-City populism is full bore. The Mail‘s approach is a bit more complex and muted.

But the Mail‘s use of that word “morally” should worry Downing Street PR advisers who owe their jobs — in part — to the prawn cocktail offensives that took place in another era.

Contagion has already afflicted the insurance industry and mortgage banks. It’s not so far away from the gates of Downing Street.

All that’s needed now is a botched rescue attempt and we’ll ready for a latter-day replay of The Sun’s iconic front page from 1992 — the one featuring Neil Kinnock, a light bulb and a headline urging the last person to leave Britain to “turn out the lights”.

You can almost feel it coming. The odd thing is that The Sun doesn’t seem the least bit interested in being the one to run it. Yet.

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