Nick Jones

Election Campaigns

There are a multitude of differences in the approaches taken by Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn towards their leadership of the Labour Party, but by far the most significant in terms of today's political campaigning has been Corbyn's total disregard for the bullying of the Tory tabloid press.

Blair, on becoming party leader, was so fearful of the political impact of newspapers such as the Sun, News of the World, The Times and Sunday Times that he went to Australia to seek a fair hearing from Rupert Murdoch.

Two decades after the New Labour landslide of 1997, egged on by the all-embracing support of Murdoch's newspapers, Corbyn has exposed the waning political influence -- if not impotence -- of the once mighty press barons.

Rapidly declining newspaper sales, an ageing print readership, and the inexorable rise of a younger generation of voters largely out-with the reach of mainstream media, are combining to finally put paid to the effectiveness of the scares and smears that for so long have been the daily fare of a Labour-hating mind set nurtured in the Fleet Street of old.

Having worked for fifty years alongside journalists and columnists writing to agendas set by newspapers such as the Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph, I can sense their all-too sudden loss of authority; gone are the days when the line taken by their newspapers could swing voter sentiment or put the Labour leadership on the defensive.

If Jeremy Corbyn was the unintended beneficiary of the vilest general election reporting of my lifetime, then Theresa May was the true casualty of the bile spewed out by Conservative-supporting newspapers.

She was so cocooned by the deadly embrace of the anti-Corbyn hate of Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch’s Sun that she was duped into thinking that having been crowned a popular hero by the UK’s two biggest selling tabloids, voters were bound to agree.

Press adulation is seductive for any Prime Minister. May was lauded from the moment she stood for the party leadership and then promised to deliver a hard Brexit.

The 52-48 Leave vote was seen by the Brextremist press – Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph – as their crowning achievement, an outcome that would not have been delivered if it had not been for their relentless 30-year demonisation of the European Union.

The fatal mistake of May and her team was a failure to realise the extent to which young people who felt their future had been stolen by Brexit were becoming highly politicised, and that unlike their parents, they relied on social media rather than the press.

Where Britain’s Conservative-supporting newspapers differ from the free press in so much of the western world is in their well-honed role as rabid propagandists.

As polling day approaches in the 2017 general election, the name of the game is to play down the flow of bad news that will become a tsunami with the looming prospect of a hard Brexit.

Any mention of the downside of the Leave vote in the 2016 EU Referendum is being quietly side lined by the Tory tabloids in the final weeks of the general election campaign.

In a calculated display of support, Theresa May’s staunchest cheerleaders are ignoring the impact of the transfer of bank and finance jobs to Frankfurt, Dublin, Paris and the like; the loss of academic and research funding; the falling off in industrial investment; or the steady drift away in skilled EU workers.

Instead the Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph trumpet the positive message that a government under the “strong and stable leadership” of Prime Minister May will get the best deal for the UK from the Brexit negotiations.

While the ability of pro-Conservative newspapers to manipulate and often dictate the news agenda far outweighed the political impact of a burgeoning online discourse during the 2015 general election, there was no doubt that the power and reach of social media did have a profound effect on the conduct of the campaign.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and host of other inter-active services became the top destination for instant news and comment.

Political journalists complained that they had been deprived of the chance to question politicians with the thoroughness of previous elections, but in many ways they had been complicit in allowing the internet to become a pivotal channel of channel of communication.

All too often correspondents and presenters had themselves become slaves to social media, jostling with each other in cyber space in their clamour for attention.

Electioneering via the internet had led inexorably to a reduction in the opportunities for journalists to hold politicians to account.    

The Election A to ZSelfies with the party leaders were the breakout craze of the 2015 general election – and the must-see location was definitely the kitchen!

A post-election thesis might well seek to establish what proportion of the thousands of people who took selfies actually voted for the political party of the candidate with whom they had chosen to photograph themselves.

Judging by the way the leading contenders were photobombed by a sea of mobile phones and tablets, onlookers obviously had an overwhelming desire to capture their moment with a celebrity politician.

Was the rush for selfies a passing fad? Did it – and will it – have political dividends? The same can be asked about kitchens: why were photo-opportunities all the rage? Were politicians taking advantage of the great popularity of shows like the Great British Bake Off or MasterChef?

All these trends – and many more – are addressed in The Election A-Z, my latest book reflecting of 50 years’ of political reporting.

 

German politicians have much to learn from the unprecedented level of online engagement during the British general election of May 2010 and the American Presidential and mid-term elections.  In a lecture in Berlin to the Deutsch-Britische Gesellschaft (17.11.2010), Nicholas Jones said that online discussion of politics came of age during the British election.  He was convinced that German political engagement via the internet will have the same unpredictable results in the run to up to the Bundestag elections in 2013.  

What greater challenge could there be for a political enthusiast than to be given ten minutes to tell twenty sixth formers the ten most important facts about the 2010 general election.

Campaigning on the internet during the 2010 general election did not achieve the breakthrough which the political parties were hoping for but communication via the web ‘came of age’ for both the public and the news media.  Speakers at a London conference agreed that voting intentions were influenced by the rise in social networking and the emergence of Twitter as a significant source of information for journalists.

Just as the 2010 general election was a game changer for the political parties of Britain – paving the way for the first peacetime coalition government since the 1930s – so it was for the news media.  But not quite in the way the pundits had been predicted.

Come the next British general election leading broadcasters say they will do their best to ensure that the political parties impose fewer restrictions on the format for any future televised debates between the party leaders.