Magazine article The Spectator

There Won't Be Commissars at the Telegraph but New Labour May Punish Its Enemies in the Press

Magazine article The Spectator

There Won't Be Commissars at the Telegraph but New Labour May Punish Its Enemies in the Press

Article excerpt


So the day is over, the fight is done. As I write this I have no idea as to the size of New Labour's overall majority. Is it 100? Or 150? Or 200? Only you know, dear reader. But if it is enormous, all but the most pig-headed Labour supporters can surely see that there is a danger of a one-party state. And, of course, one of the characteristics of oneparty states is that they control the press.

I am not suggesting that there will be New Labour commissars sitting in at Daily Telegraph leader conferences. Not yet, at any rate. But the party is likely to flex its muscles in another way. During this campaign it has perfected a technique it employed throughout the last parliament - that of refusing to engage with its critics.

New Labour did not let the comic Rory Bremner on its campaign buses. It similarly tried to exclude the novelist and self-publicist Will Self, though perhaps more forgivably in view of Mr Self's drug-taking shenanigans during the 1997 campaign. With James Naughtie often out of the way on the Today programme's slightly tiresome battlebus, the floor has been left to the more steely John Humphrys, who gave Tony Blair and Yvette Cooper, a junior health minister, a nasty going over. Last week New Labour refused for a time to allow any of its ministers to appear on the programme. Mr Blair declined to give an interview to the Daily Telegraph, presumably because of its critical editorial line.

Let us imagine another whacking majority. New Labour will continue to help its friends in the media, of whom there are many. I caught a whiff of this when I travelled on the party's battlebus last week. Some of my journalistic colleagues had been on the bus for the duration, and whatever tendencies they might once have had to criticise New Labour had been whittled down. Mr Blair's more bizarre campaigning stunts were cheerfully indulged. On one occasion the media minders organised a quiz for the journalists on the bus, with a prize of a bottle of wine. All very cosy. What happened here can serve as a paradigm for much of Fleet Street.

But there remain some misguided souls who have not yet taken the Labour shilling. These risk being exiled to the Siberian salt mines after the election. They are not all clustered in the same media organisations. For example, I doubt that Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's press secretary, will ever lay out the red carpet for the Daily Mirror's Paul Routledge. The Mirror may be supinely proLabour, but Mr Routledge is regarded as a curmudgeon. Equally, although the BBC is generally seen as sympathetic to the cause, a few of its journalists such as Mr Humphrys are regarded as off-limits. Throughout the media there is a healthy sprinkling of independentminded journalists who may find their calls not being returned by Mr Campbell and his staff.

Two newspapers in particular will not bask in the approval of No. 10 - the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. Already even Telegraph lobby journalists who are broadly sympathetic to New Labour (there are one or two of them) are finding their access reduced. The Daily Mail is no longer the favourite reading of the Prime Minister, and commentators who complain that his first and greatest wish is to please the editor of the Daily Mail are way out of date. New Labour is just about to discover that it can win a huge victory without the Mail, and that is bound to lead to a certain amount of swaggering. …

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