A unanimous vote by the trustees to close our care home was a gut-wrenching moment, given my 17-year association with the admirable work of the Journalists’ Charity in housing and assisting retired and needy journalists.
For generations of reporters and sub-editors, in newsrooms up and down the country, there was always the re-assurance that if they fell off their perch and hit hard times in old age, there would be a place for them at the Newspaper Press Fund’s residential home in Dorking.
Sadly, that particular safety net is no more. Pickering House, opened by the Countess of Wessex in September 2007 – as a replacement for the charity’s original care home, Sandy Cross – closed its doors in June when the last of the residents moved out to alternative homes. The buildings and spacious gardens are up for sale.
Just a short walk away is the charity’s estate of 23 bungalows and flats at Ribblesdale, which is unaffected by closure, and continues to offer retirement homes, but the days when veterans of the trade lived together as a community in a care home, sat around yarning, having the odd drink, are just a memory.
Broadcasters – and especially those at the BBC – are being urged by the campaigner Gina Miller to refrain from harking back to the Leave and Remain arguments of two years ago and to focus instead on the process of the UK exiting the European Union.
In her view, there was still much too much reporting of a sterile Brexit debate that was still dominated by lies and untruths and too little reporting of the facts and figures surrounding the UK’s departure.
Ms Miller delivered a passionate plea for more analysis on future UK-EU arrangements in a speech after the presentation of the annual Charles Wheeler award to the Channel 4 News presenter Michael Crick at the University of Westminster. (19.6.2018) where she was the guest of the British Journalism Review.
“This harking back to the arguments of two years ago is not helpful. We need to be hearing about the position today, hearing from the experts, and the broadcasters should be asking questions to see what is happening, to see if we are we are exiting the EU in a way without hurting this country.
When Theresa May finally acknowledged in the House of Commons that the UK would be worse off economically after Brexit, she posed questions the British news media should attempt to answer:
“How many jobs are being threatened by Brexit?”
“And, more importantly, how many have been lost already?”
No answers are likely from Brexit-supporting newspapers that command 70 per cent of national sales and readership.
Not only will there be no attempt to explain or justify the loss of output and employment, but the Brextremist press will carry on their cover-up, continuing to totally ignore news stories that point to halted investments, declining job opportunities and a damaging exodus of talented staff.
Unrelenting pro-Brexit propaganda – exaggerating positive forecasts but ignoring harsh facts – represents a massive challenge to the multiplicity of groups and factions fighting to reverse the UK’s departure from the EU single market and customs union.
The only way to counter the Brexiteers’ falsehoods is to fight them with factual data and analysis, but what is so lacking is a co-ordinated media strategy to counter misrepresentation.
“Was Enoch Powell right?” ... “Should Wolverhampton have a blue plaque for Enoch?” ... just two of the questions that provoked intense debate when the city’s evening newspaper, the Express and Star, brought together a panel to discuss Powell’s “Rivers of Blood Speech – 50 years on.”
The audience at Wolverhampton Literary Festival voted four to one against a blue plaque and gave short shrift to UKIP’s West Midlands MEP, Bill Etheridge, when he claimed that “immigrants were coming to Britain to get benefits not jobs”.
As one of the two journalists on the panel, my pitch was that Powell was certainly right in identifying the potency of exploiting fears over immigration – perhaps the most potent political weapon of the post-war years.
Powell had timed the speech and framed its content to maximum impact having become an accomplished exponent of media manipulation and the exploitation of immigration for political advantage – techniques that were refashioned by the former UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, and most recently by the US President Donald Trump.
The 31 pit closures announced in October 1992 were a point of no return for the British coalfields, the eventual death knell for deep mining and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.
A botched announcement, a Tory party revolt, and an embarrassing U-turn for John Major only months after being re-elected Prime Minister, did bring about a temporary reprieve, but the closures went ahead, ready for a slimmed down British Coal to be privatised.
There was a public outcry that had shocked the Prime Minister: 200,000 people marched through London in protest, and the miners’ leader Arthur Scargill was hailed a hero.
Cabinet papers revealed confidential Downing Street memos that contained excoriating criticism of the then President of the Board of Trade, Michael Heseltine, for mishandling public sympathy for the miners, and for allowing accusations of a government “betrayal” of men in the Nottinghamshire coalfield, who had stayed loyal to Margaret Thatcher in the 1984-85 pit strike.
After the shock announcement of the closures, and news that a pay-off for the 30,000 redundant miners would cost £1 billion, Major was forced to order an immediate inquiry into energy policy.