Editor of The Times Red Box, Matt Chorley, joined us in the Pagefield bunker this week for our afternoon tea ‘Meet the Editor’ event. Peter Turay gives his very own ‘Red Box’ bulletin on the discussion.
Matt has been the editor of The Times Red Box morning newsletter since January 2016 – taking over from The Times’ former political editor, Phil Webster. The bulletin is now sent out to over 40,000 subscribers, including cabinet ministers, MPs and advisers across Westminster. Since he’s started writing the newsletter, British politics has undergone an unprecedentedly volatile era, which has seen Matt report on Brexit, the 2017 General Election and an unpredicted surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn (all while waking up at 5am to write the Red Box email – and we thought our morning routines were busy).
His morning mix of humour, political gossip and analysis has helped drive the growth of the outlet’s paid subscribers ever since – he noted that around half of his newsletter readers now pay a monthly subscription for The Times. He also presents the Times Red Box Podcast, which is uploaded every week, and has even overseen a side-line in much coveted branded mugs.
Discussing everything from Hampshire to the Home Secretary in a roundtable discussion full of political gossip and predictions, here are the five things we learned:
It’s fair to say Matt isn’t the Prime Minister’s biggest fan. He restated his comments from May that Theresa May and her government were an “empty vessel” – and lamented the “depressing lack of intellectuals” producing ideas within No10 and central government. He claimed that this has deteriorated further since the departure of Nick Timothy, who despite his well-publicised failures as joint chief of staff, often drove ideas through to the Prime Minister.
Matt also cited a discussion he had with one of his colleagues at The Times: “The situation with Theresa May as Prime Minister is totally unsustainable, but it will go on and on and on…”.
Although Matt didn’t think either Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn would be stepping down anytime soon – in fact he thinks Jeremy Corbyn could well be the next Prime Minister – he looked ahead to other future leaders.
Matt interviewed Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, at the Labour Party Conference in a Red Box Podcast special, and said he was blown away by her powerful backstory and sharp analysis of the political landscape. He predicted that if Rayner, a working-class girl from a council estate in Manchester, was able to succeed Corybn as Labour leader then politics really will have changed.
On the Tory side, he stated he was “a big fan” of Amber Rudd and noted that the next Conservative leader had to come from the ‘new generation’ – who have been chomping at the bit for a chance to show their worth. He also revealed that many senior Tories aren’t worried about her constituency majority in Hastings in the event that the leadership was passed on to her, and instead are predicting a ‘leadership bounce’ to her approval ratings and big campaigning efforts from grassroot Conservative members.
Brexit, Trump, Corbyn: the political establishment within Westminster have had a string of predictions go astray in recent years. Matt’s solution for those who are confused by it all? Get out of London.
The conversations he has back home in Somerset, and even in Hampshire where he now lives, highlight how London is “completely detached” from the rest of the country in so many ways. People outside the capital city have no interest in topics such as the Garden Bridge project – which have dominated news headlines – when what really affects them is the price of petrol, something few politicians talk about.
Matt explained that the government, especially No10, have become too focused on managing the Tory Party and its divisive personalities, rather than managing their relationship with business.
He noted that this was even more prevalent during the reign of the PM’s joint chiefs of staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, who he claimed would oversee and restrict who ministers were able to meet with. They also rejected policy proposals from businesses simply due to the fear of “looking too much like David Cameron or George Osborne”.
Now that they have both been removed from their roles, and pro-business Ministers such as Michael Gove have returned, he expected these relationships to start to improve, but it might be too late.
While many traditional media outlets are declining, cutting staff and seeing falling profits (Matt noted that more than 90% of new online ad revenue now go to Google and Facebook), The Times has remained in good stead. He puts this down to their paywall model and an increase in people, especially younger readers, who are willing to pay through a subscription model for their news – much like popular services such as Spotify and Netflix.
However, one ever-present problem Matt envisaged for his industry was the emergence of fake news. He said there is an ongoing conversation to be had at papers like The Times about the role of established media, and at what point it becomes their responsibility to correct fake news stories that were being shared on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, rather than just ignore them.