Why have the Independent endorsed the coalition?
The Independent's election coverage has been broadly excellent. In a campaign where the vast majority of newspapers have stuck strictly to the Conservative party's script, the Indy have been willing to break stories that most others wouldn't have touched.
Just yesterday they ran a cracking exclusive story on Tory campaign manager Lynton Crosby's lobbying activities. The paper also hosts some excellent left-leaning journalists and commentators.
So it was to some considerable surprise that the paper came out with an endorsement for the current Conservative-led coalition last night.
The paper's torturously written leader claims that "we will not be telling you how to vote," before immediately contradicting itself by adding that Miliband's party are "unready for government," and a minority Labour government would be a "disaster" for the country.
It then suggests that a continuation of the current coalition government would be the best result from the election.
"This title casts no vote. But we prize strong, effective government, consider nationalism guilty until proven innocent, and say that if the present Coalition is to get another chance, we hope it is much less conservative, and much more liberal," it concludes.
The endorsement immediately led to outrage and threats to cancel subscriptions from the papers' (overwhelmingly left-leaning) readers on social media last night. So why do it?
Sources at Northcliffe House tell me that it is all down to the influence of the Indy's owner Evgeny Lebedev. They say he has become much more closely involved in the editorial line for both the Indy and their sister paper the Evening Standard during this election.
Describing the Indy endorsement as "beyond a joke," a source told Politics.co.uk that Lebedev was "closely involved [in the editorial line] now. Much more than in 2010."
The source added that the Independent endorsement was due to a "personal diktat" by Lebedev. The Evening Standard today also endorsed the Conservatives.
Am told Independent newsroom deeply unhappy at this morning's Coalition endorsement – came as total surprise to many
— Matthew Bayley (@MatthewBayley) May 5, 2015
— Adam Bienkov (@AdamBienkov) May 5, 2015
Lebedev's own politics are not well known. However, he has built up close relationships with leading Conservative politician over recent years. For the past three years he has flown London Mayor Boris Johnson out to join him for weekends at his 17th century palace in the Umbrian hills. The mayor's gift and hospitality register reveals that on one of these trips the mayor's journey to the airport was also picked up by the Standard's editor Sarah Sands.
Asked about the trips back in 2012, a spokesperson for the mayor told me that the mayor's visits to Lebedev's palace were "purely personal" and unrelated to his work as mayor.
The latest opinion polls suggest that London is set to become overwhelmingly dominated by the Labour party later this week. But as London has moved to the left, the Standard has moved decidedly to the right. Coverage of Lebedev's holiday companion is now almost universally positive in the paper over recent years.
The Evening Standard, as ever, speaking for both Kensington AND Chelsea. pic.twitter.com/NL0m6enlmR
— Peter Watts (@peter_watts) April 8, 2015
Their coverage of Labour has also become increasingly negative. Most recently the paper took a firm line against Labour's plan to scrap the non-dom tax break splashing with the scare headline "LONDON BACKLASH OVER ED'S NON DOMS ATTACK". This kind of editorial slant has so far been restricted to the Standard. However it's telling that in today's Indy leader, Labour's mansion tax and their bad relationship with business are singled out as reasons not to back the party.
One of the most notable features of this campaign has been the apparent inability of the Conservatives' supporters in the press to shift the opinion polls decisively in the party's favour. However if the current polls are correct, this is set to be the most close election result in decades, with just a handful of seats deciding who becomes the next prime minister. In such a close battle, the press's influence on the outcome is likely to be examined like never before.